The Obama White House has the votes to ratify the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, with the Senate preparing for a vote this week, the Sun-Times has learned. The vote could come as early as Wednesday, after the vote on the tax package Obama negotiated with the Republicans. The Senate on Monday was advancing the tax legislation, with enough votes to end debate.
But what about that letter all 42 Senate Republicans signed pledging to block votes on anything and everything unless the upper chamber extended all Bush tax rates and adopted a measure funding the federal government? Apparently, they left themselves an escape hatch:
The letter states that the GOP senators will "not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all Americans. THE LOOPHOLE: A vote to ratify a treaty is different under Senate rules than a vote to advance legislation, which needs a cloture vote. No cloture vote will be needed for the Senate to take up New START.
We've chronicled the flaws of New START ad nauseam here, but feel free to bone up one last time. If you find yourself convinced that this treaty doesn't deserve hasty passage through Harry Reid's lame duck Senate, I'd recommend working the phones (202-224-3121) -- stat. Remember, 67 votes are required to ratify a treaty, so nine Republicans would need to join a united Democratic caucus to do the deed. Heritage Action suggests getting in touch with the following GOP Senators, who might benefit from a little old fashioned political encouragement:
Lamar Alexander (TN), Republican Conference Chairman
Robert Bennett (UT)
Scott Brown (MA)
Saxby Chambliss (GA)
Thad Cochran (MS)
Susan Collins (ME)
Bob Corker (TN), voted for the treaty out of committee
Lindsey Graham (SC)
Judd Gregg (NH)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
Johnny Isakson (GA), voted for the treaty out of committee
Mark Kirk (IL)
Jon Kyl (AZ), Republican Whip
George LeMieux (FL)
Richard Lugar (IN), voted for treaty out of committee and a main proponent
John McCain (AZ)
Mitch McConnell (KY), Republican Leader
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
George Voinovich (OH)
UPDATE: NRO's Robert Costa questions Sweet's reading of the Senate rules regarding the filibuster and treaties:
It’s true Reid doesn’t need 60 Senators to bring a treaty to the floor, but thereafter the treaty is still subject to filibusters at the amendment and debate stages.
To that end, former Sen. Rick Santorum is urging anti-START Senators to use every parliamentary tool and procedure at their disposal to obstruct a final vote on the treaty -- at least until the new Senate convenes next month.