Ratification of the New START treaty received a huge boost today as it received two-thirds support of the voting Senate on the motion to proceed to debate. While only 51 votes were needed to begin debate, this vote demonstrates that Republicans are divided on the treaty and that it has enough support to achieve ratification. The super majority vote also serves as a significant blow to Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) who was forced to back down from making the Senate clerk read the text of treaty.
Nine Republicans voted to support the motion to proceed — including Sens. John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), George Voinovich (OH), Richard Lugar (IN), Scott Brown (MA), and Bob Bennett (R-UT). The final vote was 66 to 32. While this was short of the magic number of 67, two senators did not vote, including Democratic Senator Evan Bayh who is expected to support the treaty. In other words, this vote indicates that treaty will likely have the 67 votes needed for ratification.
Moreover, this was a procedural vote, not a vote on the final treaty. Republicans have often voted to filibuster legislation that they claim to support. For instance, Brown, Snowe, Lugar, and Murkowski all voted to filibuster Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for procedural reasons even though all claimed to support its repeal.
On START, Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) both voted for the treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but voted no on the procedural vote. Furthermore, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) has spoken previously about how he supports the treaty. So if anything, support for the treaty is likely to increase not decrease when it comes for a full vote. One would also expect this to be the case when senators can no longer hide behind a procedural justification (such as wanting to vote next year) to vote no and are forced once and for all to vote for a treaty supported by the U.S. military, every living Republican Secretary of State, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, the nuclear lab directors, and all of our allies.
Today’s vote is also a big blow to Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who just yesterday questioned whether Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had the votes and threatened to work to make sure START failed. As Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk noted, “This is the worst outcome for Kyl: irrelevance.”
Cross-posted at ThinkProgress.