START Picks Up Two Key Republican Votes

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats today picked up two important Republican votes for the New START nuclear treaty with Russia when Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins threw their support behind the pact.

“I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security,” Snowe said in a statement this morning. “Therefore, if the majority moves to consider New START under a framework that allows for sufficient debate and amendments, I intend to support the Resolution of Advice and Consent.”

“As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have worked with my colleagues to scrutinize this agreement and ensure any classified matters are properly vetted,” she said. “Much has changed since the original START was first negotiated in 1991, and as a result I have supported efforts to make certain that questions regarding our ability to verify Russian compliance with the Treaty’s limits, to develop and deploy effective missile defenses, and to modernize our nuclear weapons complex, have been satisfactorily resolved.”

Sen. Collins, just a few minutes after Snowe’s announcement, said on Twitter that she too would support the treaty.

The backing of Snowe and Collins, the two moderate GOP lawmakers from Maine, means that three Republican senators have now said they will vote for the treaty. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was the first.

But the treaty must receive 67 votes for Senate ratification, so Democrats will need to secure more GOP support to pass the pact.

While doing so will be difficult due to the Senate’s already-packed lame-duck schedule that includes passing the tax bill and funding the government, momentum could be building to take action this year. Another Republican – Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire – said earlier this week that he was leaning towards supporting the treaty.

“I think we should bring it up. I think we should get it done,” Gregg told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday. “I am leaning towards supporting, but I haven’t made a final decision.”

In addition, GOP senator John McCain of Arizona today said in a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies that he believes Republicans are “very close” to resolving their issues with the administration about missile defense funding in the treaty.

“I still hope we will be able to bring this up next week, and a lot of work is being done to that effect,” McCain said. “My colleague Sen. Jon Kyl is doing a tremendous job working with the administration to resolve the issues associated with nuclear modernization. I’ve been focusing my efforts on addressing the key concerns relating to missile defense. And I think we are very close.”

Kyl, the Senate’s number-two Republican, is seen as a crucial vote if the treaty is to pass. Kyl has led his party in talks with the administration and Foreign Relations boss John Kerry, who are pushing to take up the treaty during the lame-duck. President Obama has called ratification of the treaty his top foreign policy priority during the lame-duck session. When the new Congress convenes next year, Senate Democrats will see their current 57-43 majority in the chamber shrink by five seats, making it tougher for them to pass the pact. Kyl, however, has said there is not enough time left in the lame-duck session for senators to debate and pass the pact, with the Senate still focused on taxes and government funding.

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