Kyl Takes the Floor

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The junior Senator from Arizona, Jon Kyl, is taking an hour to attack the New Start treaty as the battle between him and Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana gets underway today. In his opening, Kyl made 10 substantive points. Some track what he has been saying, but others call into question whether he has been negotiating in good faith with the Obama administration over the last few months. Previously Kyl said he thought the treaty could be acceptable but for concerns about nuclear modernization, missile defense and verification. Last July, for example, he authored an op-ed in the WSJ arguing that:

“If the Obama administration was clearly articulating that our nuclear posture is going to be strong and properly resourced,” Kyl wrote, “Most senators will likely view the treaty as relatively benign.”

The administration went to some lengths to placate those concerns. That appears to have won over McCain, Graham and other Republicans who voted to bring the treaty to the floor, but now Kyl is re-raising questions about other issues that he previously suggested had been laid to rest, including different missile types allowed in the treaty like MIRVs, SLCMs and rail-mobile missiles and access to the U.S.-Russian negotiating records.

It will not surprise those who have followed Kyl to see the true extent of his opposition to the New Start treaty finally come to light. He first came on the scene opposing the chemical weapons treaty in the 1990s, and launched a successful coup against the CTBT in 1999. Kyl, it is fair to say, is not a big supporter of treaties. He is a big supporter of tough negotiations, however, and in the process of talks with the administration he has extracted considerable benefits for the two Republican Senators from Tennessee if the treaty does pass.

Kyl knows his stuff, and in his lengthy presentation is providing substantive cover for those of his colleagues who want to vote against the treaty. Lugar, however, is even more expert in these areas and will respond. The key moment for the treaty will come if and when Sen. Barasso of Wyoming brings an amendment to strike the preamble, a vote that now is likely to come after caucus lunches that run until 12:30. Lugar and administration sources say they believe they have the 67 votes to protect the treaty: Republicans Collins, Snowe, Brown of Massachusetts, McCain, Graham, Bennett of Utah, Murkowski, and Voinovich, in addition to Lugar, voted to bring the treaty to the floor. Treaty backers are pursuing Kirk, Corker and Alexander as well.