The fate of the treaty is complicated by a deadlock over government spending and the political subtext about whether the pact’s approval would rejuvenate a weakened president.

US-Senate-SealWASHINGTON, D.C. — The top two Senate Republicans declared Sunday that they would vote against President Obama’s nuclear treaty with Russia as the bipartisan spirit of last week’s tax-cut deal devolved into a sharp battle over national security in the waning days of the session.

With some prominent Republicans angry over passage of legislation ending the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, the mood in the Senate turned increasingly divisive and Mr. Obama and Democratic lawmakers scrambled to hold together a coalition to approve the treaty.

Senator Harry M. Reid, the Democratic majority leader, moved to hold a vote on Tuesday to close off debate, saying, “You either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists or you don’t.” But the fate of the treaty, known as New Start, was complicated by a deadlock over government spending and the political subtext about whether the pact’s approval would rejuvenate a weakened president after his party’s midterm election defeat.

For the second day, Mr. Obama’s supporters defeated a Republican amendment that would have blocked approval of the treaty by the end of the year. But the 60-to-32 vote left them short of the two-thirds majority they will need for final approval, and the White House lost a Republican it had hoped would join them on the decisive vote expected later this week.

The debate on the Senate floor came hours after Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican leaders in the upper chamber, said they would vote against the treaty. While their opposition was not a surprise, the question was how aggressively Mr. McConnell in particular would lobby the handful of wavering Republicans who will decide the matter.

“I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,” Senator McConnell said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “I think the verification provisions are inadequate and I do worry about the missile-defense implications of it.” While the treaty was signed eight months ago, he said, “rushing it right before Christmas, it strikes me as trying to jam us.”

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Source: Peter Baker | The New York Times
Photo: U.S. Senate