Kerry’s Moment to Shine: Senate Passes START 71-26

Earlier today the Senate passed the new START treaty on a 71 – 26 vote, paving the way for President Obama’s signature. The treaty legislation “cements what is probably the most tangible foreign policy achievement of Mr. Obama’s two years in office.”

This was a big win for the president however, it might not have been achieved were it not for the diligence and hard work of the senior Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

One month ago it looked like the START treaty was dead in the water, after Senator Jon Kyl thought he had managed to pull the plug on the deal.

Not so fast…

The president made a gutsy decision that he was willing to lose it, and that was a gutsy decision,” said Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was Mr. Obama’s chief ally in the Senate. “Everybody said it wasn’t going to happen. Even colleagues on our side said it wasn’t going to happen.”

In shepherding the treaty through the Senate, this was indeed “Kerry’s Finest Hour“:

Standing ovation for Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, for outstanding leadership on and stewardship of the START Treaty.

I have seen many senators come and go, and John Kerry is one of the finest I have ever known. His prodigious work on the START Treaty was a textbook case of what a senator and committee chairman can do, in the best tradition of the Senate.

Kerry’s knowledge of nuclear weaponry is comprehensive and deep. His ability to work with Republicans in good faith is profound. His relationships with military leaders, his heroism during the Vietnam War when the served with the United States Navy and his legislative skill as a senator and chairman led to the great triumph for Kerry, the Senate, and American diplomacy today.

Laura Rosen notes in Politico that Kerry’s aides calculated that “as of Wednesday afternoon, Kerry had been on the Senate floor for about 70 hours since START debate began last Wednesday.” 

In shepherding the U.S.-Russian arms control pact through the Senate, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations panel held over twenty meetings and had over thirty phone calls with figures integral to the process, including Vice President Joe Biden, key Republican Senate negotiators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn), in the past week.

And she says… “Of the wide margin for the final vote, Kerry drew praise.” 

“John Kerry impressed many in the administration with his adept handling of the floor debate,” one non-proliferation hand said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. “He often was a lonely voice on the Senate floor, playing defense against hordes of Republican amendments with little backup from other Democrats. He demonstrated intelligence, agile debating skills, command of his facts, passion when called for, and a wry sense of humor at other times.

“If indeed he is gunning for Secretary of State in a second term, the past month has bolstered his cause,” the nonproliferation hand continued, adding that he was also impressed with the advocacy for START played by freshman Democratic senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

The Christian Science Monitor makes this point (emphasis mine):

In 2004, what Sen. John Kerry wanted most was to become president of the United States. In 2008, after the election of Barack Obama, he wanted to become secretary of state. In this December week of 2010, the senator from Massachusetts has proven his statesmanship and value to the country without ever having had a crack at those two other jobs.

Ah… but he still would have been a great president

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry issued the following statement today after today’s landmark vote: 

“This historic Senate vote makes our country safer and moves the world further away from the danger of nuclear disaster. The winners are not defined by party or ideology. The winners are the American people, who are safer with fewer Russian missiles aimed at them, and who benefit knowing that our cooperation with Russia in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and supplying our troops in Afghanistan can be strengthened.

“Members from both sides of the aisle worked hard to achieve this moment when we came together in the best interest of the American people. With all eyes watching, we reminded everyone of what the Senate can do when we work together. And by ratifying this agreement, we have the leverage to press countries around the world to join the fight against nuclear proliferation.

“New START has been described as a modest agreement, but the impact of Senate ratification is far from modest. The impact will echo around the world, signaling to allies and adversaries alike that the United States remains determined to work with Russia and responsible partners to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons worldwide.

“With this treaty, we send a message to Iran and North Korea that the international community remains united to restrain the nuclear ambitions of countries that operate outside the law. And we send a message that the two countries that possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons are fulfilling their obligations to reduce their arsenals in a responsible manner. By joining together, we isolate those who remain outside this international understanding.

“America is most secure when we set aside partisan politics and Democrats and Republicans debate our national security on the merits. That happened today and the world is safer because the Senate did its duty. Many times in this debate, when Senators were tempted to walk away and go home for Christmas, we were reminded that there are 150,000 American troops on missions around the world doing their duty away from their families as they do every day regardless of the season. They do their job with gut and grit. Today they can know that the Senate has done its duty as well, and our national security is strengthened because of it.”

Job well done, Senator Kerry, job well done. There’s more work to be done…

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One Response to Kerry’s Moment to Shine: Senate Passes START 71-26

  1. gamalpha says:

    How does agreeing not to build defenses against nuclear missiles constitute an achievement? How does agreeing to only inspect what Russia allows the U.S. to inspect constitute an achievement?