Former President George H.W. Bush came out Wednesday in support of the arms-control treaty with Russia
known as New START, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served under former President George W. Bush, backed the pact on Tuesday.
Whether the endorsements can budge skeptical Senate Republicans remains to be seen, but the Obama White House remains optimistic it can get the 67 votes -- a super majority -- needed for New START to pass.
"I am confident that we are going to be able to get the START treaty on the floor, debated and completed before we break for the holidays," President Obama said Wednesday.
Added White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, "I think if they voted on it right now it would pass."
Vice President Joe Biden, briefing a small group of reporters on Friday, said if the treaty gets to the Senate floor, "I would be surprised if there are fewer than 75 votes for the treaty."
But getting the treaty to the floor with the votes to pass -- without threats by Senate Republicans to bog it down with amendments -- is still a challenge for the Obama White House.
Bush Senior issued a terse statement on Wednesday, which the White House hopes will help move at least nine Republicans to yes.
"I urge the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty," Bush said.
Obama and Lugar have a history when it comes to working on nuclear non-proliferation issues. When Obama was a senator, he traveled with Lugar to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan in August 2005 as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Obama came to the Senate with an interest in proliferation issues and he latched on from the start to Lugar, who had a long track record trying convince nations to get rid of or secure stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on Tuesday told Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show he was inclined to support the treaty. The Obama team is encouraged by what one source characterized as "very positive statements" from Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah); and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) met several times this week with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is leading the resistance to voting on the treaty
. Kyl has several concerns about START and argues the vote can wait until next year. Obama is pushing for a vote now, when there are more Democrats in the Senate.
In its lobbying effort, the Obama team is emphasizing the backing from GOP national security officials from prior administrations and the Republican roots of the treaty.
"Contrary to some of the things you've heard from some of our colleagues up on the Hill, this treaty is extremely important and extremely worthwhile," Biden said at the briefing. "It continues a process begun by President Reagan. This is not a new idea. This is a continuation of a Republican idea, the Republican presidents, in order to move us further away from brinkmanship and continue to reduce our nuclear weapons."
Biden highlighted a string of GOP national security officials under Republican presidents who favor the treaty besides Rice: Former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown, Frank Carlucci, Bill Cohen, Bill Perry and James Schlesinger, and former Secretaries of State Jim Baker, Larry Eagleburger, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Colin Powell, and former National Security Advisers Steve Hadley and Brent Scowcroft.
David Sherzer, a spokesman for former President George W. Bush, asked about New START, told Politics Daily on Wednesday, "We have no comment."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Kirk after his election win to congratulate him -- and "put in a good word on START and to offer a briefing," said Brian McKeon, Biden's national security adviser.
Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Kirk. Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, also called Kirk.
"I hope the new senator will feel satisfied as the debate begins, God willing it begins, in talking to his colleagues who have been working on this a long time," Biden said.
The Obama team is pushing hard for a vote before the end of the year.
But Kirk is reluctant to take on New START before other issues -- including the pending tax compromise -- are settled. Kirk has asked the White House for the complete negotiating record of the treaty and other information.
What seems puzzling is the disconnect between GOP national security figures who vouch for the treaty and Senate Republicans who remain skeptical.
Meanwhile, Biden is working his former colleagues.
Said Biden, "Ever since the president asked me to shepherd the passage of this treaty, I have been in regular, constant, and continuous contact with my Republican colleagues on the Hill. I have worked closely -- I have met repeatedly in the office, at my home with John Kerry, with Dick Lugar, two men -- two of the men I most admire in the United States Senate. I have met repeatedly with Senator Kyl. I have met repeatedly with leading Republican senators like Lindsey Graham. I have had long discussions with everyone from John McCain to a dozen other Republicans that I can mention."