Having repeatedly failed to pass amendments to the text of the treaty itself, which would require the United States and Russia to return to the negotiating table (effectively killing the deal), Senate Republicans appear to have found a way forward on New START, one that could address concerns surrounding U.S. missile-defense capability.
Earlier today, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) — along with senators Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), and Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) — introduced an amendment to the resolution of ratification (RoR), which is separate from the actual treaty.
Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told reporters that amending the RoR was the most likely course of action for Republicans. “I think we all recognize that there won’t be an ability to actually change the treaty itself,” he said. “There are [other] ways of dealing with some of the concerns that exist.”
Corker said he is working on his own amendment to the RoR that would address numerous GOP concerns about missile defense. “I understand that there’s not an amendment to the treaty that is going to pass. Most of the concerns that people have are not actually in the four corners of the treaty anyway — they’re either about signing statements or what’s in the preamble, both of which are nonbinding.”
Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has emerged as a leading figure in the START negotiations. He said he has spoken with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the past few days. But he played down his role as a leader in pushing START in the GOP caucus. “We’ve obviously had a lot of lunch discussions; we had a very pointed one today,” he said. Still, “I don’t think it’s my role to go out and lobby someone else on a national-security issue. Yes, I’ve had questions; yes, I’ve had people ask me about what I think about this or that.” But, he emphasized, he has not attempted to “twist elbows.”
On his conversations with administration officials, Corker said: “We haven’t talked about vote counts. We’ve talked more about issues.”
Meanwhile, at a press conference this afternoon, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called today’s closed-door intelligence briefing “very instructive” for senators who still had questions about the treaty. He also said that he was discussing possible changes to the RoR with Republicans.
“We have included some 13 different amendments already that are in the resolution that reflect their concerns,” Kerry told reporters. “We were just having a conversation now with Senator Kyl. There may be some additional things that we can incorporate.” He remained confident that he has the 67 votes needed for ratification. “I anticipate we’re going to ratify this treaty,” Kerry said.