Senator Kyl’s Stalling on New START Is Fraying Washington’s Nerves

Sen. Kyl“Senator Kyl’s recent statements begin to seriously call into question where the cat and mouse game between the administration and Kyl’s office will end,” writes Chris Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an indispensable post. Minority Whip Kyl (AZ), to whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), has granted final say on whether Senate Republicans will vote to ratify New START, has been stringing along the Obama administration.

Either he’s trying to extort the very last penny from it that he can for the nuclear weapons industry and its vaunted “modernization” program before giving the go-ahead to Republicans to vote yes. Or, failing that, he seeks to squeeze what funding he can from the administration before ordering the bill shot down.

Kyl’s coyness has become tiresome — even to the Senate’s next most respected voice on nuclear weapons issues, Richard Lugar (IN). Jones links to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus [Lugar] said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus. . . . Kyl told [Rogin] that negotiations were going forward “in good faith,” but Lugar suggested that’s all a smoke screen and that the Republican leadership is committed to avoiding completion of the treaty for the foreseeable future.

In other words, not during the lame duck session. Jones also links to Elizabeth Weingarten at the Atlantic, who writes:

Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says . . . Kyl may be waiting until the next Congress to make sure the. . . . promised funds to appear in a spring appropriations bill.

Or, Kyl and the Senate Republicans are stalling “just to make the president look ineffective and weak,” writes Center for American Progress president John Podesta at Politico (another link courtesy of Jones). But, in their rush to make the president look weak, they may, many believe, be weakening national defense. Rogin quotes Lugar: “Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty.”

What Lugar means is that, in the year since the original START expired, the United States has been sorely lacking one of its provisos — the right to inspect and monitor Russia’s nuclear program. Podesta also writes:

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must recognize that most Republicans have little interest in killing the treaty. He should schedule a vote in this lame-duck session. . . . Though a handful of GOP senators outright reject New START and are ideologically opposed to arms control, the majority are likely to support the treaty if it comes to a vote.

Apparently, most Republican senators get the national security angle, which also includes ensuring Russia’s help pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Hard to believe, but there actually appears to be a Democratic bill that Republicans, however much they’re opposed to helping Obama “reset” U.S.-Russian relations, don’t want to vote no on.