Last week, on the vote to begin debate on the New START treaty, the White House got the nine Republican votes they will need to ratify it: Senators Bob Bennett (UT), Scott Brown (MA), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dick Lugar (IN), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe (ME), and George Voinovich (OH). So now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) has filed for cloture, is Tuesday’s vote a foregone conclusion? No.
This Sunday, Senator Graham (R-SC) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he will vote against the treaty. Graham explained his mostly procedural objections to New START: “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.” And Graham is not the only member of the New START Nine rethinking their support. The treaty’s preamble contains language that links our development of missile defense to Russian nuclear weapons. The White House had claimed that the language was not legally binding, so Senator McCain offered an amendment to solve the problem by just removing the language entirely. That amendment failed, and now McCain tells National Review he has not made a decision on the treaty.
The White House is still confident that, despite losing Graham and possibly McCain, they can still muster the nine Republican votes needed for ratification. Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued a letter pledging to fully develop missile defense in Europe. In the letter, the President claims that New START “places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs” and promises that he “will take every action available to me to support the deployment of all four phases” of a missile defense system in Europe. Senator Bob Corker (R–TN) took to the floor welcoming the President’s letter: “A number of people on our side of the aisle have asked for it.”