New START advances from committee

NEW START ADVANCES FROM COMMITTEE…. Going into today, only one Senate Republican — ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Dick Lugar — had publicly endorsed the New START treaty President Obama successfully negotiated with Russia. It will need 67 for ratification — not 60, not 51 — which means Lugar would have to be joined by at least seven other Republican senators.

Today was the first key test, with a committee vote on whether to send the treaty to the floor. The results, fortunately, were encouraging.

A Senate panel approved a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia on Thursday, advancing one of President Barack Obama’s main foreign policy priorities to an uncertain future in the full Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-4 to approve the new START treaty. The full Senate must consent to the agreement before it can go into effect, but it is unclear when the treaty will get a vote on the Senate floor.

Three committee Republicans voted with the Democratic majority: Lugar, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. With those three on board, Dems would need five more for ratification, which seems feasible.

Ideally, this wouldn’t even be a question. For many years, support for U.S. nuclear arms treaties has been overwhelming and bipartisan, especially in the Senate. The INF Treaty of 1988 was ratified on a 93-to-5 vote. The 1992 vote on START was 93 to 6. The SORT Treaty’s vote in 2003 was a unanimous 95-to-0 vote.

That was, of course, before much of the Republican Party went stark raving mad.

To be sure, the treaty enjoys enthusiastic bipartisan support — mostly, with the exception of Sen. Dick Lugar, from Republican elder statesmen who are no longer in government. Officials like Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, and former Sens. John Danforth and Chuck Hagel have all urged the Senate to ratify New START.

Fortunately, today, a few GOP senators actually managed to agree.

Time is, however, of the essence, and it’s unclear if the Senate will complete its work this year. It really needs to. Not only would ratification be far more difficult next year with an influx of new, right-wing members, but while the Senate dithers, we no longer have the ability to inspect Russian long-term missile bases (Jon Kyl’s humiliating ignorance notwithstanding).

The sooner the vote, the better.

For more background on this, Fred Kaplan had a good piece a few months ago on the treaty and its larger significance.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.