As Congress returns back from its Thanksgiving break to go into the a lame-duck session of Congress that could go as long as three weeks (or considerably shorter), there are a number of items that Congressional Democrats would like to vote on before they break for Christmas, including the DREAM Act, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the extension of some or all of the Bush tax cuts, extending unemployment benefits, and also, most pressingly for the President, the new START Treaty with Russia.
That agreement - signed between Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev would reinstate ground inspections and reduce each country's deployed nuclear arsenal by 30 percent. As we've written about previously, the entire foreign policy establishment (including Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and James A. Baker) also supports it. Three Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee supported it in September, but the big question is whether Democrats can rally enough Republicans to get to the 67 votes needed for ratification.
The face of that GOP opposition in the Senate is Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who explained to David Gregory and Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Meet The Press on Sunday that there are just too many other things for Harry Reid to schedule in the next few weeks to have an honest debate about the merits of the treaty.
SEN. KYL: Of course. Let me reiterate what I said before. Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, can bring the START treaty up anytime he wants to, but he has a different agenda. He's made some promises to some political constituencies. He wants to do the Dream Act in order to appeal to certain segments of the Hispanic community. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy to appeal to the gay and lesbian community. To appeal to the unions, he wants to do the so-called firefighters federal unionization bill. In addition to various political commitments that he's made to do legislation in the lame duck session, we have to fund the government for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year. We have to deal with some expiring provisions like...
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, you're not being responsive. What's your...
SEN. KYL: May I just finish, David?
MR. GREGORY: Well, what's your issue?
SEN. KYL: David!
MR. GREGORY: Well, what's your issue with the treaty?
SEN. KYL: As I told you, my issue is that you can't do everything. I was stating it as a matter of reality, not a matter of policy. How can Harry Reid do all of the things we've talked about, deal with the expiring tax provisions and, in addition to that, deal with the START treaty, which by itself could probably take at least two weeks?
Illinois Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin repeated the Democratic party line that the treaty must be approved now:
Durbin: Let's roll up our sleeves and do it. Senator Kyl has raised legitimate issues, but the fact is, we can do all of the things he mentioned, debate them and vote on them in a responsible way before we break for Christmas. To do otherwise is really to create a dangerous situation. I agree with Senator Richard Lugar. It is time for us to step up as a nation and face the reality that we will be safer with the START treaty. And I might say to Senator Kyl, consider the situation in Iran. They just announced yesterday that they were going to fire up their nuclear reactor. If it's for peaceful domestic purposes, all well and good. But if it's part of an agenda to build a nuclear weapon, it's a danger to the world. Russia has helped us in dealing with this threat in Iran. To ignore and push aside the START treaty at this moment does not help our relationship with Russia in this critical issue of an Iranian nuclear program.
Whether it has to be approved by the end of this lame-duck session is debatable perhaps, but there's no question that the White House fears that if the GOP Senators can jam Obama, it will not be looked upon favorably in the rest of the world that the President has any juice left. Doyle McManus wrote in Sunday's Los Angeles Times:
As Russia's state-owned Novosti news agency wrote in an unusually tart commentary: "Obama could win [ratification], but he could also fall flat on his face in which case he can kiss New START, the 'reset' and his reputation goodbye . The treaty represents his only chance to retroactively earn his Nobel Peace Prize."
Even Biden wasn't that blunt. But he almost was. If New START isn't ratified, Biden warned, other governments, not only Russia's, will ask: "You guys can't even deliver on something you helped tie down?"
"It affects, in my view, the way in which the president is going to be looked at," Biden said. "It's just not a good place to be." On that count, the vice president was surely right.
Will the GOP be successful? Our bet is they probably will.