WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken today hailed the “modest but real” reductions in nuclear weapons outlined in a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty signed today by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Before the ink was dry, however, White House advisers began fortifying their political defenses for a possible fight over ratification in the Senate.
The key point: A 30 percent reduction in nuclear arms, which both leaders called a starting point for future reductions.
“The new START treaty that President Obama signed this morning is an important step in strengthening nuclear nonproliferation and arms control efforts in the 21st century,” Franken said in a statement. “The reductions in nuclear weapons that the U.S. and Russia will make under the treaty are modest but real, and will continue to stabilize our two nations’ strategic relationship.”
“I congratulate the Obama Administration for its steadfast work in furthering our national security interests, and I look forward to considering the historic treaty in the Senate this year.”
That Senate consideration will be key — 67 votes are required to pass it, meaning Democrats will need to find eight Republican votes to pass it.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs laid out the math on Twitter this morning, with a not-so-subtle nudge reminding Senate Republicans of how bipartisan previous votes were — and casually dropping the hint that this vote would be a test to see if they were still interested in bipartisanship.
“DC’s next test – last 3 Senate votes on arms reduction treaties: INF 93-5 (’88), START I 93-6 (’92), & SORT 95-0 (’03) = bipartisan test,” wrote Gibbs.
Republicans haven’t committed to support it yet, nor come out en masse opposed, though they have expressed concerns about America’s ability to strike back with debilitating force in the ultimate “what-if” scenarios — like a terrorist’s nuclear attack on New York or Los Angeles.
The views of the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., will carry some weight among his fellow Republicans. His view in general is said to be “favorable,” a Lugar aide tells ABC News, but he needs to do “due diligence” and go through the process of reading the treaty and its annexes, which will take some time.
“The process we go through in the committee will determine whether there’s sufficient Republican support for it,” the Lugar aide said. “Normally arms control treaties take many months to go through the ratification process, sometimes it can take a year or two.”
The Lugar aide acknowledged the “politics of this year” — what he described as a “particularly explosive election year” — might complicate the process, but ultimately Lugar hopes the votes will be there. The general posture of Senate Republicans today hasn’t seemed particularly embracing.
Medvedev will visit America sometime in the summer, White House officials announced today, and no doubt the two countries would like to be celebrating the ratification of a new START treaty during his trip. Of course, the Russian Duma (their version of Congress) must also ratify the treaty, and the Washington Post reports that may be an even heavier lift because some Russians are worried they conceded too much.
All of that is to say that while this deal is done, it’s also far from a done deal.