Anyone who thought Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) would just throw up his hands and yell – yes, I support START! – was always living in dream land. Yet, upon Kyl’s release of a timid statement that says he doesn’t think a vote can get done in the lame duck session, reporters have scrambled to pen stories claiming that START is now unlikely to happen. But Kyl’s statement — which still refuses to take a position on the treaty, but typically calls for more delays — actually makes Kyl less relevant. It’s not about deal making with Kyl anymore, it is about the willingness of the White House and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) to force a vote on START. Reid, not Kyl, controls the Senate calendar, after all.
Throughout the START process, Kyl has been a force for delay and obstruction. Last summer, Kyl was whining immensely that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) was rushing the process and that a committee vote should not happen until after the August recess. After the SFRC delayed, Kyl spoke to Reuters who paraphrased Kyl:
It could be difficult to satisfy his [Kyl's] demands before November and thus the vote on New START might need to take place during the lame duck session if the Senate wants to vote on the treaty this year.
After Sen. Kerry (D-MA) delayed the SFRC vote, I wrote at the time disapprovingly:
Delaying the vote, may have made sure that Senator Kerry and the Administration couldn’t be accused of “rushing” the process, but in the end it probably only strengthened Kyl’s hand and got him closer to his goal of blocking the treaty this year. In the end, the only way the treaty probably gets passed this year is if the Obama administration and the Senate leadership call Kyl out and force a vote.
But Kyl kept moving the goal posts. In September, after the SFRC did hold its vote, Kyl and Senate Republicans argued that having a vote before the election was impossible because it would politicize the process and that a vote should happen after the election. Time Magazine quoted an anonymous Senate Republican Aide who said:
This notion that [ratification] is going to happen before November is completely absurd… It reeks of politics.
Predictably, now that the election has passed, Kyl and Republicans say there isn’t enough time in the Senate calendar. Well, there would be plenty of time in the Senate calendar if Senate Republicans agreed to not needlessly stall the process. But Kyl’s statement essentially threatens to do exactly that –- to attempt to run out the clock on the Senate session and force Reid to forgo bringing up the treaty. He threatened the same thing last summer.
But the ball is no longer in Kyl’s court. The question is now will Reid and the White House give up and say there isn’t enough time for START or will they make the time and force a vote.
Perhaps, if a vote is forced, Kyl will lead a mass Republican boycott, in which pro-START Senators vote no out of party loyalty. That is a risk. But if Kyl is actually willing to vote no on the treaty in the lame duck, than he is in all likelihood not going to push for ratification in the new Senate, making the treaty all but dead anyway. Forcing a vote is also less risky than starting the ratification process from scratch and leaving the treaty in the hands of the next Senate. So essentially, what Kyl says or doesn’t say in the next few weeks shouldn’t change the calculus on whether or not to hold a vote.