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Brown joins Kerry to back treaty

Arms pact vote may come today

Senator John Kerry (above) spoke in Washington on the New START treaty, which won the support of Senator Scott Brown. Senator John Kerry (above) spoke in Washington on the New START treaty, which won the support of Senator Scott Brown. (Kevin LaMarque/ Reuters)
By Mark Arsenault and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry, laboring to achieve a foreign policy victory that would be a highlight of his career, gained crucial support yesterday for a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia from his Republican counterpart, Senator Scott Brown.

Brown’s backing gave Kerry additional momentum heading into a possible vote today. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is President Obama’s man in charge of trying to lock down the two-thirds support of the Senate — 67 votes if every member shows up — required to ratify the New START pact.

Kerry and other senators have predicted passage but as of last evening there had not been enough public declarations of support to push it over the top.

Brown said late yesterday he would buck GOP Senate leadership and vote in favor of the treaty, which would reduce nuclear warheads by approximately one-third, after a secret intelligence briefing for senators.

It was the second dramatic move across the aisle by Brown in the last week. On Saturday, he supported repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy banning gays and lesbians in the military.

“I’ve done my due diligence, and I’m going to be . . . ultimately supporting the START treaty,’’ Brown told reporters in the Capitol. “I believe it’s something that’s important for our country, and I believe that it’s a good move forward to deal with our national security issues.’’

Brown was among 18 senators contacted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about the treaty.

For Kerry, passage of the treaty has been one of the greatest challenges of his 25-year Senate career. After weeks of hearings he conducted this spring in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he spent the summer and fall working with the White House behind the scenes to gather support. For much of the past week, he has been on the Senate floor battling for ratification and beating back treaty-killing amendments while several Republican senators sought to slow the proceedings by mixing discussions of technical equations concerning warheads with personal anecdotes.

Kerry remained confident yesterday, saying, “I believe we have the votes to pass this treaty.’’

The outcome could have a significant impact on his legacy.

“If Kerry is successful, it means he comes out of the shadow of Ted Kennedy,’’ said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who studies Congress, referring to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the late Massachusetts Democrat. “This is a career turning point, and if he succeeds, he lays claim to being a legislator of the first order.’’

The treaty would reduce strategic nuclear warheads by about a third on each side, to 1,550, and set up protocols for inspections of each nation’s warheads.

The Senate is expected to vote today on whether to cut off debate on the treaty and proceed to a ratification vote, perhaps later in the day or tomorrow. The treaty is likely to pick up the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, and a Globe count of the votes, based on the public statements of a number of Republican senators, suggests that the treaty is close to having the votes needed to pass.

If all 58 senators who caucus with Democrats vote in favor, they would need nine Republicans to join them.

At least six have said publicly that they plan to vote for the treaty, and two others voted for it in a committee earlier this year. That would mean its supporters need just one more Republican, and there are a half dozen who are possibilities. Among them is Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican who is on the Democrats’ list of supporters. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said yesterday that Cochran was going to vote for it, but Cochran later said he was still evaluating the treaty.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, suggested that he could be supportive.

“I voted for it out of committee, and I said at that time that there were some caveats,’’ Corker told reporters. “It appears to me that the caveats that I’ve laid out are going to be dealt with.’’

Ratification of the treaty requires support from two-thirds of all senators present and voting. One variable is whether Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who underwent surgery yesterday for prostate cancer, will vote on the treaty. If all 100 senators are present, it would require 67 votes. If Wyden is missing, it would require 66 senators. But because Wyden supports the treaty, the Democrats will need nine Republican senators — the same number they would need if he is absent — if the other 57 senators who caucus with Democrats vote in favor.

For the sixth day yesterday, Kerry led the Senate debate on the pact. Republican opponents charged that language in the treaty would restrain US missile defense efforts, or, if the United States pushes ahead with missile defense, provide Russia with an excuse to leave the treaty.

One senator whom Kerry had hoped to persuade, Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, said yesterday he was leaning against the treaty. It was Graham who had promised to work with Kerry to pass climate-change legislation earlier this year, only to withdraw his support, effectively scuttling that bill in a devastating defeat for Kerry. Last week, Graham complained about the way the Senate on Saturday passed legislation to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ rule on gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces. Yesterday, he accused Democrats of trying to rush legislation through before the end of the session.

“I’m a guy that was open-minded to a START treaty being taken up in a lame-duck [session] if it was done in a reasonable way,’’ Graham said yesterday. “Right now, the lame duck’s become special-interest politics and the START treaty is mixed up in that. They passed a lot of things in a very Draconian fashion.’’

With the clock ticking toward a vote, Kerry ramped up the pressure yesterday, releasing a letter supporting the treaty from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

“It will strengthen the US leadership role in reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons,’’ Mullen wrote in a letter addressed to Kerry, saying that the pact has “the full support of your uniformed military.’’

Meanwhile, a leading arms control group sought to discredit some of the expert analysis being cited by Republican opponents as cause for voting against the treaty.

The Arms Control Association called on senators to scrutinize the track records of several former Republican defense officials who are lobbying against New START, including Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney, who served under President Ronald Reagan, and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Daryll Kimball, executive director of the association, specifically cited the trio’s opposition, along with that of the conservative Heritage Foundation, to the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union, which is considered a landmark that significantly reduced nuclear dangers. Kimball called their views the “discredited theories’’ of 25 years ago.

Bryan Bender contributed to this story. Marc Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, the position of former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle on the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was incorrectly described in this article. He supported the treaty.