Obama Says START's Not About Politics But It Is

Obama with past secretaries of state

hide captionPresident Obama and Vice President Biden met with a group that included former Republican secretaries of state James Baker and Henry Kissinger.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Trying to provide a powerful visual representation of that old Washington adage that "politics stops at the water's edge," President Obama invited past Democratic and Republican national security and foreign policy heavyweights to the White House Thursday.

It was part of his push to get the Senate to ratify Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia passed during the lame-duck session.

Among the big names joining Obama in the Roosevelt Room were former Republican secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger, Gen. Brent Scowcroft who served as the first President Bush's National Security Adviser and former Clinton Administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Stressing the need for bipartisanship, Obama said:

I think the group around the table will confirm — that this New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue.  This is not a Democratic concept; this is not a Republican concept.  This is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now my administration.

So the key point here is this is not about politics -– it’s about national security.  This is not a matter that can be delayed.  Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify what’s going on on the ground in Russia.  And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America’s national security will be weakened.

While the president may not want the treaty to be about partisan politics, it most assuredly is.

The reason he wants a vote during the lame-duck session is because Senate Democrats currently have 57 seats not including the two independents who vote with them.

Come January, Democrats will be down to 51 seats with the Republican pick-up of six. Ratifying a treaty takes a two-thirds vote, or 67 votes, in the Senate. So Obama's best chance at ratification is now.

But his opportunity for passage appears to be slipping away along with his political capital.

A key Senate Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said earlier in the week that despite White House wooing to gain his support, he declined to vote on it during the lame-duck. Kyl and other senators have said they're concerned about how the treaty's limitations could hamstring the U.S. from modernizing its stockpile of nuclear warheads.

Kyl indicated he'd also rather wait for the additional six GOP senators to be seated.

And unlike the past, where, say, a Republican President Ronald Reagan had to deal with a Senate majority leader like W. Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd, Obama has to deal with a minority leader in the upper chamber, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is on record saying his priority is to keep Obama a one-term president.

Allowing the president to add a ratified START pact to his list of achievements probably doesn't do much for that McConnell agenda item.

So politics is inescapably a big part of the START picture.

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