Republicans have turned the greatest deliberative body into a forum for a non-stop game of chicken. START has been no different. But what seems different about START is that Republicans appear to be swerving.
On Tuesday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) appeared to throw the hammer down on the START treaty when he said he would do everything he could to make it fail. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) followed up with a threat to force a reading of the treaty. But the White House and Democrats in the Senate led by Harry Reid (D-NV) and John Kerry (D-MA) refused to swerve. Kerry said it was time to “fish or cut bait.” Vice President Biden sent a strong signal saying they weren’t backing down, according to Josh Rogin, Biden said that:
We’d rather lose [the vote on New START] now with the crowd that’s done the work on rather than go back and start from scratch [next session].
All of this indicates that the administration and Senate Democrats are willing to call the bluff of Senate Republicans on START, since they know many, if not most Republicans, do not actually want to vote against the treaty.
Yesterday was therefore a test of whether Senator Kyl could hold his caucus together and he failed. Nine Republicans — the magic number necessary to ratify the treaty — voted for the motion to proceed. Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Jornal spoke to two different GOP aides yesterday. A Senate GOP leadership aide told Weisman that ratification was “very likely” and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to allow debate “went a long way” toward satisfying Republicans. A second aide told Weisman that,
The strong vote today to proceed fundamentally changes the dynamic. It’s pretty clear this treaty is going to pass.
Additionally, in the face of a blistering critique from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Senator Reid, Senator Jim DeMint caved and abandoned his effort to force the senate to read the entire treaty. While Reid did make a concession to put off the official debate until this morning — something that Republicans trumpeted as a concession — the fact is that a number of Senators used the afternoon and evening session to issue their lengthy opening statements on the START treaty, something they would have done anyway. So the amount of time that debate was delayed was far less than Republicans claim.
While this was just a procedural vote, the fact is that the final vote is likely to grow, not shrink. Senators Bob Corker and Johnny Isakson both voted for the treaty in committee, but didn’t vote for the motion to proceed. Corker yesterday evening said on the floor:
It’s my hope — I think I have indicated a willingness to support the treaty… I think this treaty with the t’s crossed and I’s dotted, with the appropriate time allotted, whether this is now or ends up being in February, and if the resolution is not weakened in any way, is still something that I would plan to support.
Satisfying Corker’s concerns should not be a problem whatsoever, since time will be allowed to offer amendments, modernization funding — which includes a massive pork give away to Tennessee — is set, and the resolution of ratification will not be changed from the one that passed the committee. This also applies to Senator Isakson as well.