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Obama pushes Senate on arms treaty

| December 22, 2010 8:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama tried to sway reluctant Republican senators on Monday to back a new arms control treaty with Russia as GOP aversion to giving a politically damaged president another victory intruded on his national security agenda.

The White House and senior Democrats expressed confidence that they had the votes for the accord that was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April. The two countries negotiated the New START pact to cap nuclear weapons and restart weapons inspections in the spirit of U.S. efforts to reset the relationship between the former Cold War foes.

Proponents edged closer to getting the two-thirds vote they needed for ratification as Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts announced he would support the treaty. In recent days, Brown had received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who also heard from Clinton, sent the strongest signal yet that he would support ratification.

Treaty backers also were heartened as several Republicans broke ranks, voting against three GOP amendments that would have effectively killed the treaty. With the help of eight Republicans, Democrats beat back an amendment to increase the number of weapons inspectors on a 64-33 vote. They also rejected a measure to change the accord and increase the number of deployed launchers on a 64-33 vote. An effort to change the treaty to include tactical nuclear weapons also failed, 62-35.

Obama, who delayed his holiday vacation, lobbied senators by phone as he pressed to complete the treaty before January when Republicans increase their numbers by five in the Senate, casting the accord's fate in doubt. Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton also called lawmakers to push for ratification.

Bolstering Obama's argument for quick action, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to lawmakers reiterating support for the accord.

"This treaty enhances our ability to do that which we in the military have been charged to do: Protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better," Mullen wrote.

Despite the letter, several conservative Republicans insist the treaty would restrict U.S. options on a missile defense system to protect America and its allies and argue that the accord has insufficient procedures to verify Russia's adherence.

Politics coursed through the debate on Monday as Republicans were still peeved by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to interrupt the six days of treaty consideration for votes on the gay ban and an unsuccessful immigration measure, legislation they considered a sop to the Democratic Party's liberal base.

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