In a last gasp, Frank Gaffney and others on the extreme right held a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday to urge Senate Republicans to oppose the New START treaty. Their efforts look doomed. Despite throwing gobs of money into an anti-START campaign and having an incredibly favorable political climate, the far right has failed to hold its moderates. There are now enough votes to ratify the treaty regardless of what Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) thinks.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is therefore indicating he will bring the treaty to the floor of the Senate tomorrow. On almost every other piece of legislation the GOP can block legislation through filibuster without actually voting against the specific piece legislation. We saw this on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell last week where Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) all claimed to support DADT, but then proceeded to vote to filibuster because of a ridiculous process complaint. Thus GOP moderates have been able to adopt moderate positions without having to vote for them. But the GOP cannot do this on a treaty, because it only takes 50 votes to begin debate. Therefore on START moderate Republican Senators will actually have to vote up or down on the treaty.
This makes the START treaty a real test of the craziness of the Republican party. Tellingly very few Republicans want to align with Frank Gaffney and oppose the treaty on its merits and now a real split has emerged within the Republican caucus over the treaty. Few Republicans want to oppose a treaty that is unanimously backed by the US military and almost the entire foreign policy establishment of both parties. That’s why for those just looking to deny President Obama a “victory” the easiest course is to gin up some complaint over process to push for a delay.
This now looks like it is already being set in motion with news that START will come to the floor. Thus far the only GOP talking point during the lame duck session against the treaty has been a process complaint that there wasn’t enough time or that the lame duck period was not an appropriate time to do the treaty. These complaints are completely absurd.
First, there is no reason why the treaty needs to take a long time. Kyl has been demanding “two weeks” of floor time. That is absolutely absurd. The original START treaty, which was introducing a brand new monitoring and verification regime, took just five days. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) under George W. Bush took just two days. There is zero reason New START should take more than two or three days considering that its reductions are modest and entail no change to nuclear force posture and that it simply updates and extends a verification regime already in place. In other words, this isn’t a brand new treaty that is changing the status quo – this treaty simply maintains the status quo.
Second, nothing about this process has been rushed or jammed through. To accommodate Republicans, the process had already been delayed repeatedly over the last nine months. In fact, Democratic Senators have been too accommodating of the GOP’s process whining, postponing a committee vote in August and delaying a floor vote in the fall. The treaty was delayed due to GOP complaints.
Finally, this is the appropriate Senate to address the treaty. The 111th Congress is the one that has been involved in the negotiations – it sent Senators from both parties to consult with negotiators in Geneva last year, it has reviewed the treaty for the last nine months, that has held more than 20 hearings, and submitted 1000 questions to the administration.