Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 3:09 PM
The White House said Wednesday that President Obama will press to get a Senate vote this year on a key nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, setting up a potentially bruising battle with Republicans who have indicated the ratification should be postponed.
"The president and the administration will push forward on having the Senate ratify the START treaty before the end of the year," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
That message was echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met with lawmakers from both parties at a breakfast Wednesday to discuss foreign policy priorities. She said the administration will "do whatever it takes, literally around the clock" to line up support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) during the lame-duck session.
The administration offensive came a day after the second-ranking Republican senator, Jon Kyl (Ariz.), stunned the White House by saying he didn't think it was possible to vote on the pact this year. Kyl has been the Republicans' de facto negotiator on the treaty and carries considerable clout.
Obama has called ratification of the treaty his No. 1 foreign policy goal during the lame-duck session beginning this week. Because of Democratic losses in the midterm elections, it might be harder for the White House to get the treaty ratified next year, when it will need 14 Republican votes instead of the current nine.
Asked whether the administration could get enough votes without Kyl's support, Gibbs said: "We think we'll get them. ... I think this is going to be a test of the degree to which both sides can work together on things that are of common interest to the American people."
Clinton said the administration would intensify its discussions with Republican senators in coming days.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday that his priorities for the lame-duck session were "preventing massive tax increases on families and small businesses, and stopping the Washington spending spree." He did not include START but added, "I would be remiss if I didn't also express some dismay with the priorities that are being put forward from the other side of the aisle."
The new START treaty is the centerpiece of Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia - a policy that the administration credits with producing critical cooperation from Moscow on Iran and Afghanistan. If the treaty were to fail, Obama's ability to negotiate other treaties would be damaged, foreign diplomats say.
New START reduces each side's deployed, long-range weapons from 2,200 to 1,550. More critically in the eyes of U.S. military leaders, it allows each side to inspect the other's nuclear forces to ensure there is no hidden buildup. Such inspections stopped when an earlier treaty expired last year.
The treaty has won the support of nearly all past commanders of U.S. nuclear forces, as well as several former secretaries of defense and state from both parties.
Conservative groups are working hard to counteract Obama's efforts to have the treaty taken up quickly. Last week 13 former Republican senators signed a letter sent to McConnell and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urging a delay until next year.