There has been a lot of idle speculation over how the outcome of the congressional elections affect the ratification of the New START treaty. Frankly, the elections should change almost nothing. The path to the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty remains basically unchanged for the lame duck session and it is still the case that the treaty must still be passed by the end of the year.
To ratify New START Democrats do now need to get one additional Republican vote, since Mark Kirk will now immediately replace Roland Burris as the Senator from Illinois. The two other Senators who will take office immediately – Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Chris Coons in Delaware – are replacing other Democrats. Josh Rogin speculated that Manchin could be iffy on New START, but in his staff’s response to a question from Rogin, they said the new Senator would look for guidance from the military brass, which should be good for START, since the entire top brass supports the treaty. So the actual math to pass the treaty doesn’t actually change.
Despite popular perception, the math for START ratification looks pretty good. There are now 58 sitting Democrats in the Senate (including Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT)). That means Democrats need 9 Republicans to ratify the treaty in the lame duck period. Considering that Richard Lugar (R-IN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Bob Corker (R-TN) have all supported the treaty, that means 6 more Republicans are needed to reach 67. This is actually not such a tall order. With the support of the four fairly moderate Republican Senators from New England – Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Gregg (R-NH), Brown (R-MA) – and the two retiring moderates – Voinovich (R-OH) and Bennett (R-UT) – the New START treaty would pass. But even if one or two of those drop, there are a number of other possible Republican votes, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Orin Hatch (R-UT), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and George LeMieux (R-FL).
In fact, the election might have even helped ratification in regards to the lame duck, since the marginalization of Senators Murkowski and Bennett make them more likely to side with other moderate Republicans in favor of the treaty. Additionally, Lamar Alexander has also spoken positively about the treaty and given that his fellow Tennessean, Bob Corker, supports the treaty and that Tennessee is due to get billions in nuclear pork, he seems like a likely yes.
The real questions regarding START ratification remain unchanged – will the Senate GOP leadership of Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seek to further obstruct the treaty and block a vote that will likely split their caucus; and if that is the case will the Democratic leadership in the Senate allow them to succeed by not pushing for a vote on the Senate floor?
President Obama just spoke about the need to ratify the START treaty in the lame duck session during this morning’s cabinet meeting.