Senate Republicans Threaten START After Dems Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The Senate will ratify new START this week, say the White House and top Senate Democrats. But Republican leaders — and many of their influential members — are doing all they can to create the opposite impression.

Somebody’s clearly wrong. But we may not know whom until the last moment, when the arms reduction treaty gets a final vote on the Senate floor, and either does — or does not — win the two-thirds majority required for ratification.

That, in turn, will depend on whether Republicans are prepared to sink a big-deal treaty over a series of complaints about process. In the last several days, a number of Republicans — even those who profess to support new START on the merits — have risen to claim that the treaty will have to wait because they’re angry about the success of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and other Democratic priorities.“If you want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame duck has been poisoned,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on CBS yesterday morning.

Some Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), have raised a handful of substantive objections, as well: They say they can’t support a plan to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile unless it’s accompanied by a proposal to modernize the country’s nuclear weapons infrastructure. He and others complain, too, that the treaty is silent on tactical nuclear weapons (which you might expect from a treaty called the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and they cite a small portion of the non-binding preamble to argue that Russia might back out of the treaty if the U.S. builds a missile defense system.

However all attempts to amend the Treaty will fail because any changes would require the U.S. to renegotiate START with Russia. One such proposal, authored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to amend the preamble went down 37-59 in the Senate on Saturday. That too, has Republicans pouting.

Finally, Republicans claim that they have not had enough time to review new START, and fault Democrats for putting it on the floor at the last minute and hopscotching back and forth between debating the treaty and considering other issues.

Democrats laugh at this last claim. The treaty, they note, was signed by the President on April 8, 2010. Yesterday, they issued a press release highlighting “a few things that happened while Republicans failed to read the START Treaty,” including:

“Chilean Miners trapped and released.”

“Lindsay Lohan returned to rehab, was released, and went back in again.”

Democrats will need nine Republicans to vote with them reach a two-thirds majority required for passage of the treaty. They’ll hold a key test vote on that tomorrow when they attempt to break the filibuster. That will only require 60 votes, but will say a lot about how likely they are to get the thing ratified.