A key Republican senator whose vote is being sought by the White House to ensure passage of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia said Tuesday the agreement will be ratified by the Senate.
“I think the treaty’s definitely going to pass. It may even pass with a decent margin,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.
The Senate was set to vote to end debate on Tuesday afternoon, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he hoped to have a final vote on the pact Wednesday.
Corker, whose vote is one of the last two needed to get the vote total to the 66 needed to approve the treaty, made clear he supports the pact. He later said so explicitly in a speech on the Senate floor.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said earlier Tuesday he was a yes, in a speech on the floor.
“It leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come,” Alexander said. “I’m convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the new START treaty than without it.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, and Sen. Robert Bennett, Utah Republican, declared their support as well Tuesday.
Other Republicans who had already said they support the treaty are Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
That left Reid needing just one more Republican to vote in favor, and reports began to trickle out Tuesday that the total number of votes in support of the treaty could go as high as 75.
A group of seven Republicans opposed to the treaty, led by Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said the White House had been out negotiated by the Russians, and that they wanted more time to make changes to the pact.
“The administration did not negotiate a good treaty,” Kyl said. “They went into negotiations, it seems to me, with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy that goes into the car dealership and says, I’m not leaving here until I buy a car.”
Kyl also complained that “the other side does not have an open mind about changing anything,” citing no votes from Democrats for any of the amendments offered by Republicans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, was one of several Republicans who said that they did not think Obama would be able to withstand pressure from Russia to back away from U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe.
“My fear is this administration will be chilled by their response,” Graham said. “I cannot imagine this president taking it to the limit with the Russians.”
And, he added, the greatest threat facing the U.S. is not a Russian military strike, but rather a nuclear weapon in the hands of a rogue state like Iran or a terrorist group like al Qaeda. The missile defense system has always been articulated as a way to protect against rogue states or terrorists, but Russia has for years protested that they feel threatened by the system.
“If we give up missile defense capabilities to lower the Russian total from 2,000 to 1,500, we will have made a strategic mistake in terms of the threats we actually face,” Graham said.