Republicans in the Senate broke away from their party's leadership Wednesday to help Democrats advance the Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Eleven Republicans joined 56 Democrats to end debate on the bill and move it toward a final vote on ratification, likely on Wednesday.
The Republicans voting yes were Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Robert Bennett (Utah), Scott Brown (Mass.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Me.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Ak.), Olympia Snowe (Me.), and George Voinovich (Ohio).
The vote, which was 67 to 28, was major break in party unity for the GOP, which has successfully blocked several bills before the November elections and the DREAM Act and Omnibus Appropriations bill in the lame-duck session of Congress.
The treaty itself, known as "New START," would require Russia and the United States to agree to reduce their nuclear warheads by half, to reduce the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile launchers, and to submit to on-site inspections by the other country's weapons experts. A controversial preamble also states that current missile defense systems would not undermine the treaty, a clause that Republicans contend was written by the Russians to lay the groundwork to object to future American missile defense systems.
The issue has become an increasingly contentious one, as Democrats have pushed Republicans to approve the treaty without significant changes, while many Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have accused the Obama administration of jamming the treaty toward passage without giving the Senate enough time to fully consider it.
But on Tuesday, two Republicans -- Sens. Corker and Alexander-- virtually assured its ratification when they announced that they would vote in favor of it, becoming the ninth and tenth Republican votes for the treaty. While Democrats needed only four Republicans on Tuesday's cloture vote, they will need nine Republicans Wednesday to ratify the treaty.
In announcing his support for the agreement Tuesday, Alexander said the treaty would give the United States enough leeway to blow other countries "to kingdom come."
"In short, I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New START treaty than without it," he said.
As the Republican coalition fell apart Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham appealed to his colleagues to hold firm against the administration.
"I'm baffled by the idea, at least on our side, that we can't wait five weeks, start the debate next year with a date certain," Graham said. "You have 10 more Republicans coming that could help us negotiate a better deal for the United States."
Other Republicans dug in along with Graham.
"The Senate is not a rubber stamp, not for the administration, not for Russia, and as one senator, I am not ready to stamp this treaty," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, remained dead-set against the treaty, even though the White House had added billions of dollars in additional funding to answer his concerns about ensuring the modernization of American weapons stockpiles.
"The administration did not negotiate a good treaty," Kyl said just before the vote. "They went into the negotiations, it seems to me, with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy that goes into the car dealership and says, 'I'm not leaving here until I buy a car.'"
Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lashed out at GOP leaders Monday for what he saw as false arguments.
Kerry said consideration of the treaty was delayed 13 times at the request of Republicans to study it further. When Kyl asked for financing for modernization of American weapons, Kerry said Democrats provided the extra money, and when Kyl wanted more information, Democrats sent a staffer to Arizona to brief him.
"Now fully accommodated, with their requests entirely met, they come back and say it's being rushed," Kerry said.
"Is there no shame? Ever?"