700 Questions, One Purpose: Delay START

The logic behind Sen. John Kerry and the Obama administration’s decision to delay the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on New START was not — as was widely reported — because START lacked support. Conversely, it was because they felt that they were very close to getting two Republicans Senators — Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) to vote for the treaty, as both seemed genuinely supportive. Getting these two might have meant game over, as it would have given more moderate Republican Senators plenty of political cover to vote for the treaty.

Yet the prospects for Lucy taking the football away on this are pretty apparent. The principle reason for the delay was that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee couldn’t actually dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on the treaty process such that Republicans would be satisfied. And as we all know, if there is one thing the GOP cares about it is process. But much of the reason for the process issue was due to the submission of more than 700 questions from GOP Senators on the committee to the Administration. Now asking questions is fine. Asking a lot of questions is also fine. But asking such a quantity of questions so late in the game after months of hearings frankly reeks of duplicity.

Even if you take the motivations behind these questions at face value — that GOP Senators genuinely had questions about the treaty — what has also become clear since the vote was delayed is that there is a concerted political strategy on the part of the GOP leadership, led by Senator Jon Kyl, to delay and stall the floor vote on the treaty until next year after the Administration submits its next budget. Kyl wrote this in the Wall Street Journal and said as much to Politico yesterday:

If they want to schedule Senate floor time for the Senate treaty ratification in September, they can figure a) it’s going to take a long time to get done, and b) some of these conditions would not have been fully satisfied.

Time Magazine also quoted a Senate Republican Aide (hmm… I wonder who he works for) who said:

This notion that [ratification] is going to happen before November is completely absurd… It reeks of politics.

In other words, if this is brought to the floor in September Kyl is going to make this long and painful. Kyl has roped his troops in line and Senators McConnell (R-KY), Corker, Isakson, Alexander (R-TN), and Bennett (R-UT) have all basically said they are Kyl lemmings. Therefore, it is quite possible that even if Corker and Isakson vote for the treaty in committee in September, they could still support Kyl’s efforts to delay the vote on the floor by noting their continued support is conditional on the Administration meeting Kyl’s demands for nuclear modernization funding.


But the demands from Kyl (as well as Corker) that the Administration lavish billions of dollars more of unpaid for pork on the nuclear weapons complex are so vague that the Administration likely couldn’t even meet these demands if they wanted to. Instead these demands seem to be about just as much about kicking the New START can into next year, where Kyl — with likely more GOP Senators to work with — will have even more leverage over the Administration.

What makes this all the more pernicious is that Kyl basically supports the treaty. He called it benign and others have said he is leaning toward supporting it. Last year he even warned of the dangers of the Administration not getting a START deal. So why is Kyl holding the treaty hostage? Simple, as an extreme nuclear hawk, Kyl is attempting to use START to extract as many concessions as possible from the Administration such that he in effect kills off any chance of further action on the President’s larger nuclear agenda. Kyl is essentially trying to make the Administration chose between START and its Prague Agenda.

In summation, Kyl is taking a very modest treaty, one that he supports, and one that he knows if it failed would have disastrous consequences for US national security, and holding a gun to its head threatening to pull the trigger unless the President commits to building and explosively testing new nuclear weapons — something that would kill the President’s whole agenda.

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. As Senator Lugar said, after the vote was delayed:

We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It’s that important.