WASHINGTON _ A conservative Republican senator threatened Wednesday to stall a vote on a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s effort to “reset” relations with Moscow, by demanding that the pact and the accompanying legislation be read aloud line by line, which could tie up the Senate for 12 hours or more.
The White House responded by accusing Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., of “a new low in putting political stunts ahead of our national security.”
DeMint, an outspoken critic of the New START treaty, planned to object to what is normally a routine unanimous consent agreement to waive the reading of the text when the treaty is brought up for debate by the Democrat-controlled chamber on Wednesday afternoon.
While the pact itself is only 17 pages long, accompanying legislation comprises nearly 170 pages, which would take many hours to read before a Senate racing to complete it’s business before adjourning for the holidays.
DeMint and other GOP opponents contend that there is insufficient time in the lame-duck congressional session to debate the pact properly. They also charge that it could give Russia a veto over U.S. efforts to develop missile defenses, an assertion rejected by the Pentagon.
“Senator DeMint has made it clear that he's going to use every tool available to stop the controversial START Treaty from being rammed through during the lame duck session, so that the senators Americans elected have a chance to review it next Congress,” Wesley Denton, a spokesman for DeMint, said in a statement.
“Additionally, the Obama administration has not been cooperative in providing the necessary documents to debate the treaty,” he said.
Democrats, who will have five fewer seats in the new Senate than the 58 they now hold as a result of November’s mid-term elections, suspect that Republican objections also stem in part from a desire to deny Obama a big victory. New START would be his biggest foreign-policy success.
The treaty would require each side to slash the number of its deployed nuclear warheads by some 30 percent over seven years. It also would allow inspectors from the two countries to resume monitoring each other’s nuclear forces after a year-long suspension.
The accord, which Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed in April, has won endorsements from leading Republicans and Democrats, including former President George H.W. Bush, and the nation’s military leaders.
The Obama administration has been pushing hard to garner the 67 votes required for Senate approval of the treaty, and supporters say that it would easily gain that many when a tally is held.
“While some express concern that the Senate doesn’t have time to debate the treaty, Senator DeMint wants to waste 12 hours to read the text of a treaty that has been available to every member of the Senate and the public for more than eight months,” the White House said.
“This treaty has been the subject of nearly 20 Senate hearings and 1,000 questions, and is supported by President George H.W. Bush, every living Republican Secretary of State, our NATO allies, and the military leadership of the United States of America. Every minute that the START Treaty is being read on the Senate floor increases the time that we lack verification of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It is the height of hypocrisy to complain that there is not enough time to consider this treaty, while wasting so much time reading aloud a document that was submitted to the Senate months ago,” the White House statement said.
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