WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama locked up enough Republican votes Tuesday to ratify a new arms control treaty with Russia that would cap nuclear warheads for both former Cold War foes and restart on-site weapons inspections.
Eleven Senate Republicans joined Democrats in a 67-28 proxy vote to wind up the debate and hold a final tally on Wednesday. They broke ranks with the Senate’s top two Republicans and were poised to give Obama a win on his top foreign policy priority.
“We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said after the vote.
Ratification requires two-thirds of those voting in the Senate and Democrats needed at least nine Republicans to overcome the opposition of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party’s point man on the pact.
Momentum for the treaty accelerated earlier in the day Tuesday when Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, endorsed the accord.
The treaty will leave the United States “with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come,” Alexander said on the Senate floor, adding, “I’m convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New START treaty than without it.” Four other Republican senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Robert Bennett of Utah – said they would back the pact.
“We know when we’ve been beaten,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters hours before the vote.