Support builds for approval of US-Russia nuke pact
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama is moving closer to gaining Senate approval of a major arms control treaty with Russia as he builds support among reluctant Republican senators.
The administration has stepped up its lobbying of pivotal Republicans to win approval of the New START treaty, which has become Obama's main priority for the remaining legislative session.
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With lawmakers moving toward a final vote expected this week, the White House and senior Democrats were expressing confidence Monday that they had the votes for the accord.
Senior Democrats were pushing for a decisive vote Tuesday to cut off debate and set the stage for the final vote. Republicans and Democrats were discussing amendments to the accompanying resolution, not the treaty, that would deal with Republican problems with missile defense and build support for the agreement.
The United States and Russia negotiated the New START pact to cap nuclear weapons and restart weapons inspections in the spirit of U.S. efforts to reset the relationship between the former Cold War foes.
Proponents edged closer to getting the two-thirds vote they needed for ratification as Republican Sen. Scott Brown announced he would support the treaty. In recent days, Brown had received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who also heard from Clinton, sent the strongest signal yet that he would support ratification. He said he could see no reason that would prevent him from voting yes.
Treaty backers also were heartened as several Republicans broke ranks, voting against three Republican amendments that would have effectively killed the treaty.
Obama, who delayed his holiday vacation, lobbied senators by phone as he pressed to complete the treaty before January. Vice President Joe Biden also called lawmakers.
Bolstering Obama's argument for quick action, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to lawmakers reiterating support for the accord.
"This treaty enhances our ability to do that which we in the military have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better," Mullen wrote.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat, read parts of Mullen's letter at a closed briefing. Despite the letter, several conservative Republicans insist the treaty would restrict U.S. options on a missile defense system to protect America and its allies and argue that the accord has insufficient procedures to verify Russia's adherence.
Politics coursed through the debate Monday as Republicans were still peeved by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to interrupt the six days of treaty consideration for votes on repealing the ban of gays serving openly in the military and an unsuccessful immigration measure, legislation they considered sops to the Democratic Party's liberal base. "No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone's political check list before the end of the year," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, RKy., said. -Ap