Senate Moves Closer To Vote On Arms Control Treaty

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The Senate continues debate on the arms control agreement with Russia known as "New START."  The treaty is likely to come to a vote this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

Only a few shopping days left before Christmas, and Congress is still at work.

INSKEEP: Their votes in recent days have affected everything from the tax rates for millions of Americans to the rules of service for the U.S. military.

WERTHEIMER: Another big issue still remains. The Senate continues debate on the arms control agreement with Russia known as New START. The treaty is likely to come to a vote this week.

NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts joins me now. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, over the weekend, there was mixed news on the START agreement. Tell us about that.

ROBERTS: Well, the administration survived some procedural hurdles so that the debate on the agreement can go forward. But we did hear from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, that he will not support it. And you're beginning to hear more Republican voices become hostile toward the agreement.

Here's South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Face the Nation")

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you really want to have a chance at passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame-duck has been poisoned.

ROBERTS: He was speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation."

There is a lot of grumpiness about the lame-duck session, that a whole lot has gone on. And, of course, the Republicans know that the Democrats are trying to jam in a lot before their numbers are reduced in the Senate and they lose the majority in the House.

But hey, Linda, as you well know, having been in that chamber for the Panama Canal Treaties, getting these done is very tough. You're either making a deal with a country you don't like or over a subject that we don't like. So the easy thing to do is to say no, you know, not going to deal with that country. Or not going to, quote, "give away that canal."

But we will see. As I say, the treaty supporters have weathered some test votes over the weekend. But right this second, the 67 votes for ratification can't be counted.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's talk about some votes that have already been taken. Congress has repealed "don't ask, don't tell," the law that kept gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. This was under discussion for years, and then all of a sudden, boom, in a lame-duck session, they act. How'd that happen?

ROBERTS: Really, it was the Pentagon. The military really did not want to have the courts take over this issue, and that was the direction it was headed in. And the Pentagon wants to handle it themselves, so to have it in legislation where they can control this whole changeover, so that now gays can openly serve in the military, is what the military brass was lobbying for, and they got it -that combined with the fact that, you know, that they did this enormous survey where most people in the military were saying it was no big deal, is - all worked for Congress.

But, you know, really, as you say, we've talked about this for a long time. But views change dramatically, really dramatically on this issue over the last couple of years. And that's something of a testament to the gays and lesbians who have been out there working on it all this time.

WERTHEIMER: That certainly speaks well for the - for advocacy, and how advocacy can work in some situations.

The Senate did vote down the so-called DREAM Act. That does not sound good for immigration reform, generally.

ROBERTS: That's right, because that was the one that people thought was the easy one on immigration. It allowed some illegal immigrants who had come to this country as kids to have a path to citizenship if they spent some time in college or the military.

It was defeated, with some Democrats voting with Republicans. But Democrats hope in the long run that this issue will work for them with Hispanic voters.

WERTHEIMER: Very quickly, you want to talk about the 9/11 health care bill?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Well, because that bill has an interesting lobbyist: Jon Stewart spent his whole last, live broadcast lobbying for health benefits for 9/11 responders. And Congress is getting inundated, and they think that they might pass that bill, surprisingly.

It's been quite a Congress, Linda. If they pass that and ratify START, it definitely goes down in history.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

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