After several months of procrastinating, Republicans in the United States Senate voted to enact the New START treaty with Russia Wednesday. The vote is a welcome victory for Democrats who will see their numbers decimated in Congress next year as a result of November’s midterm elections.
Before the vote took place the only opposition member who had publicly endorsed the nuclear arms reduction treaty was Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He appeared on ABC’s This Week Sunday along with Chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts to stress that START was instrumental in advancing relations with the Russians. The administration so far has been able to gather but lukewarm support from Moscow for sanctions against suspected nuclear weapons proliferators as Iran and North Korea. “To throw away all of those opportunities simply because some feel the Russians are no longer relevant […] seems to me is an illogical stance,” said Lugar, “but we’re hearing a lot of that.”
Kerry and Lugar were eventually able to find thirteen Republican senators to ratify New START, three more than necessary. Prominent opponents of the treaty, including Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted against ratification. They said to fear that by further downsizing America’s nuclear arsenal while undertaking limited missile defense modernization efforts, deterrence may be undermined.
All 56 Democratic senators voted yes as did Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.
The defection of thirteen Republicans was another blow to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. According to Politico, McConnell, for the past two years, maintained iron discipline over his forty member conference, mustered a mostly united opposition against the White House and helped define the GOP as “the party of no” in the eyes of critics.
But in the waning days of the 111th Congress the White House and Democrats think they have finally found a crack in Fortress McConnell. On two critical pieces of legislation — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military and the START treaty with Russia — Republican moderates defied their leadership and backed two major priorities of President Barack Obama.
The Minority Leader was successful in other regards however. He forced the administration to extend tax rates for the wealthiest of Americans, defeated a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill as well as an act that would have granted citizenship to the children of illegals. There is no question though that in the next Congress, McConnell will find himself squeezed between an incoming class of emboldened conservatives with a Tea Party tinge and the eight to twelve moderates who showed their independence on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and New START.