At this point it’s all but certain that the Democrats will be able to ratify the new START treaty before the end of the week. Yesterday was a breakthrough, as key on-the-fence Senators announced their support or near support. But the dam fully broke this morning when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — the Senate’s third-ranking Republican — broke with his leadership team, including anti-START ringleader Jon Kyl, to announce his support.
“I will vote to ratify the new START treaty,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. Even after the arms reductions the treaty demands, Alexander said, the US will still have enough weapons to blow “enemies” to “kingdom come.”
He joins Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) as the most recent Republican to announce their intent to support the treaty; Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is widely expected to solidify his support for the treaty as well.
“I’ve done my due diligence and I’m going to be voting for cloture and supporting the New START treaty,” Brown told reporters after meeting with other senators in a closed, classified session. “I believe it’s something that’s important for our country and I believe it’s a good move forward to deal with our national security issues.”
Corker leans very strongly toward supporting the treaty. “The T’s are being crossed and the I’s are being dotted. Something could change but I don’t know what that would be,” he told reporters yesterday.
For Dems, the magic number is nine, and it looks like they’ve hit that number. Other reports indicate that Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH) and George Voinovich (R-OH) are in the yes column.
Prior this week, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced their support. And that doesn’t count numerous senators who could easily hop off the fence and join the Democrats: Mark Kirk (R-IL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA) — who voted for the treaty at the committee level — Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Bennett (R-UT) and even John McCain (R-AZ).
Senate Republican and Democratic leaders are still working to schedule a vote to end debate on START. Like most filibuster-ending votes, it would require 60 votes. But ratification itself would require two-thirds support of all senators voting. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, who’s been the Democrats’ point man on START, joined Dem leaders in the White House yesterday in signaling confidence that they’ll hit the magic number.
“I believe we have the votes to ratify this treaty,” he said.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.