Senate Republican leader says he'll vote against New START

The U.S. Senate held a rare Sunday session to debate the New START treaty with Russia. It would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. It would also establish a system for monitoring and verification. (Dec. 19)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 8:22 PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) announced that Sunday he will vote against a new U.S.-Russia nuclear-arms accord, a move that could pressure other Republicans in what is likely to be a close vote at the end of Congress's lame-duck session.

His statement came as Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the chamber's second-ranking Republican, also said he would not support the treaty unless it was amended.

Supporters of the pact played down the announcements, saying they had not expected the backing of either senator. Vice President Biden and senior Democratic senators said the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) still has the votes to pass.

But the statements by the two leaders indicated how precarious passage has become, and how annoyed Republicans appear to be about Democrats' handling of the lame-duck session.

McConnell told CNN that he still has concerns about the treaty's verification provisions and about a few phrases in the document regarding missile defense. But above all, he appeared angry that the pact is being debated in the final days of the session, against the wishes of top Republicans, who have pressed to have the vote moved to February.

"I don't think this is the best time to be doing this. Members are uneasy about it, don't feel thoroughly familiar with it," he said. "We'd have been a lot better off to take our time."

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), whom the White House had hoped would support the treaty, also sounded a negative note.

"If you really want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame duck has been poisoned," he said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Graham echoed Republican concerns that Democrats had pursued "special-interest politics" in the lame-duck session - such as passing the bill allowing gays to serve openly in the military - instead of providing more time to debate the treaty.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass), who is leading the effort to pass the pact, responded that plenty of time had been allotted to consider the pact, which has been public since spring.

"We are looking at having more days of debate on this treaty than START I, START II and the Moscow Treaty all put together," he said in a speech, referring to arms-control treaties from the past two decades.

Kerry has noted in recent days that he postponed consideration of the treaty several times over the past few months at Republicans' request. Despite his evident frustration, though, he has pledged to give Republicans ample time for debate in an attempt to avoid the appearance of jamming through the legislation.

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