Senate Ratification of New START No Sure Thing

Posted April 8, 2010 at 6:33pm

Senate ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is far from assured, with Democrats and Republicans lining up on opposite sides within hours of President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signing the document on Thursday.

Leading Democratic and Republican Senators Thursday evening squared off in a joint television interview, with Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) arguing for immediate ratification and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) expressing several reservations. Ratification of the treaty requires 67 votes, meaning eight Republicans must support it if the Democratic Conference offers the document united backing.

“If any treaty should be able to be ratified, it is this treaty. This treaty is a step forward,” Feinstein told Jim Lehrer, host of PBS’ “Newshour.”

Kyl countered that Republican support for the treaty would hinge on several factors, including commitments Obama made to the Russians on U.S. development of missile defense technology, the specifics of the president’s Nuclear Posture Review — and most importantly, whether the administration follows through with plans to modernize the nation’s existing nuclear weapons arsenal.

Last December, the full Republican Conference and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) signed a letter to Obama vowing that their support for the START treaty would depend upon the administration acting to adequately update the country’s current stockpile of nuclear weapons. On Thursday, Lieberman released a statement restating that point, and Republican sources said the minority remains unified on this issue.

“I think the Senate will find it very hard to support this treaty if there is not a robust modernization plan as called for by section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act of last year,” Kyl said, adding that if the administration doesn’t fully fund the modernization program, “there could be trouble.”

Feinstein said she did not share Kyl’s concerns and was prepared to move forward with ratification.

Additionally, Kyl and Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a joint statement Thursday evening expressing serious concern with aspects of the START treaty and warning that their support could hinge on the modernization program. McCain lost the 2008 presidential race to Obama, and is running for re-election to the Senate this year.