By a vote of 71-26 this afternoon, the Senate ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), exceeding the two-thirds majority required for passage.
The vote brings to an end a long, winding and at times hostile debate over the arms agreement, which enjoyed broad support among one-time GOP influence peddlers, but was held up for much of the lame-duck session by several Republican senators who raised a series of procedural and policy objections to the treaty.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl led the opposition, and at times appeared to have rounded up the 34 votes he would have needed to block START. Kyl made a name for himself in the GOP in 1999 when he shocked American and international diplomats and handily blocked President Clinton’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
This time, his efforts fell well short.
The New START continues the reduction of U.S. and Russian strategic arms and extends verification protocols, which have lapsed in recent months.
Kyl rallied Republicans to oppose the treaty over a number of objections. He and other GOP Senators complain that START should be accompanied by measures to provide for the modernization of the country’s nuclear weapons infrastructure; that it doesn’t contain provisions for tactical nuclear weapons; and that it shouldn’t be addressed by a lame duck Senate, when new (mostly Republican) members will be serving in the 112th Congress in a matter of days.
They also wanted to deny President Obama another in a series of unexpected lame-duck victories.
“When it’s all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Fox News Radio yesterday.
But over the course of the week — facing pressure from a slew of Republican former diplomats, national security leaders, and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) — a slow, steady drip of GOP senators announced their commitment to supporting START. By Tuesday afternoon, Democrats had on-the-record commitments from more than the nine senators they needed to guarantee ratification.
Yesterday, with the support of 67 members — enough to pass the treaty — the Senate broke Kyl’s filibuster, a clear sign that his efforts had failed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.