Political Notebook

Nuclear arms pact has votes for Senate ratification, aide says

A concern of Maine’s Olympia Snowe — the ability of the United States to verify Russian compliance — has been resolved. A concern of Maine’s Olympia Snowe — the ability of the United States to verify Russian compliance — has been resolved.
December 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Supporters of a US-Russia nuclear arms treaty negotiated by President Obama said they have the 67 votes needed for Senate ratification, as two more Republicans announced their backing.

A spokesman for Indiana’s Dick Lugar, the leading Republican supporter of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, said yesterday that enough senators are prepared to vote for the pact’s ratification. The treaty needs two-thirds support in the Senate to be approved.

“We’ve got enough Republican support to pass the treaty,’’ said Mark Helmke, Lugar’s spokesman. “We are hopeful that [majority leader Harry Reid] sets the schedule as soon as possible.’’

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, plans to bring up the treaty for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year, spokesman Jim Manley said. The Senate first plans to finish debates on pending legislation to extend expiring tax cuts and a measure to finance government operations.

The treaty, signed in April to replace a 1991 accord that expired in 2009, would reduce each nation’s deployed nuclear warheads by about one-third to a maximum of 1,550. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who is the minority whip, has delayed a ratification vote while seeking assurances that Obama would modernize the nation’s remaining nuclear-weapons arsenal.

Two-thirds of senators present and voting are required to ratify a treaty, or 67 if all 100 lawmakers are in the chamber. Democrats have 58 votes in the chamber, Republicans 42.

Ratification in the new congressional session that convenes in early January could be more difficult because the November election narrowed the Democrats’ majority to 53-47.

Supporters such as Lugar argue that the treaty is needed to restore inspection Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe said that they support ratification.

Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement she is “confident’’ the treaty “will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability and most importantly our national security.’’

Snowe said she would support the treaty if there is “sufficient’’ opportunity for debate and amendments to the ratification resolution. She said concerns about “our ability to verify Russian compliance’’ and “to develop and deploy effective missile defenses, and to modernize our nuclear weapons complex, have been satisfactorily resolved.’’

Collins said in a statement that she will support the treaty’s ratification after Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured her in writing that the administration was also committed to reducing Russia’s estimated 3,800 tactical nuclear weapons.

Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, told MSNBC he favors the treaty’s ratification. Senator Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican who like Gregg is leaving the Senate, said in an interview that he was “generally disposed’’ to back the treaty.

Two other Republican senators, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Bob Corker of Tennessee, voted for the ratification resolution when it was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lauded the “growing bipartisan momentum’’ toward ratification.

— Bloomberg News

Judge’s ruling may end Senate drama in Alaska
JUNEAU, Alaska — A judge ruled yesterday against Joe Miller’s lawsuit challenging how Alaska counted write-in votes for fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski in their Senate race, delivering a crushing blow to the Tea Party movement-backed candidate’s legal fight.

Judge William Carey’s ruling all but ends any hopes Miller has of getting relief in state court. Although Miller can appeal to the state Supreme Court, Carey cited past decisions by the high court in his ruling.

— Associated Press

Special envoy Holbrooke admitted to D.C. hospital
WASHINGTON — Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, according to a hospital official who asked not to be identified.

Holbrooke, 69, has spent the past two years traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan and seeking support from allies to help promote economic development and stabilize the neighboring countries that have been plagued by terrorism.

Holbrooke felt ill while working on the seventh floor of the State Department headquarters, said Philip J. Crowley, the department spokesman.

— Bloomberg News

Former chief of Interior cleared in ethics probe
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department closed an ethics probe of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, President Obama’s administration said yesterday.

Norton was accused of using her position to steer lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, where she took a job soon after leaving her post at Interior.

But a two-year investigation failed to prove a conflict of interest, said Mary Kendall, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general.

Kendall said Interior appeared to give Shell preferential treatment in at least two instances, but that she could not link either case to Norton, who served as Interior secretary from 2001 to 2006.

Norton no longer works for Shell, the company said.

— Associated Press