George H.W. Bush backs New START

GEORGE H.W. BUSH BACKS NEW START…. Two weeks ago, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has not yet said whether she’ll support ratification of the pending arms control treaty, New START, urged a GOP elder statesman to weigh in.

“It would be wonderful if President [George H.W.] Bush would come out for the treaty,” Collins said. “That would be so powerful and definitely help.”

With that in mind, here’s hoping Collins and at least eight other Republican senators consider yesterday’s announcement powerful and helpful.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who signed and won Senate approval of the original Start arms control treaty with the Soviet Union in 1991, endorsed the proposed follow-up treaty with Russia on Wednesday, lending another well-known Republican voice to the White House campaign for approval.

“I urge the United States Senate to ratify the Start treaty,” Mr. Bush said in a one-line statement that offered no elaboration. His spokesman, Jim Appleby, said by telephone that the former president would let his position stand at that and would not discuss whether the White House solicited the endorsement.

This is a good move by the former president, and I’m glad he took it. Bush pere doesn’t weigh in on policy debates often, so his statement yesterday should carry a little additional weight.

That said, it really shouldn’t be necessary. When an arms treaty receives the strong backing of eight former secretaries of state from both parties, five former secretaries of defense from both parties, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several of his predecessors, seven former Strategic Command chiefs, national security advisers from both parties, and nearly all former commanders of U.S. nuclear forces, it sends a pretty clear signal.

If a senator is inclined to ignore their collective judgment, I’m not sure an endorsement from a former president is going to tip the scales in the other direction.

Still, if Collins was on the fence, yesterday’s statement from Bush should put her in the “yes” category. To ratify the treaty this month, Democrats will need nine Republican votes. Whether they’re in place or not remains to be seen.

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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.