Senate to vote on Russia nuke treaty

WASHINGTON — The Senate plans a critical vote today on the Obama administration's nuclear arms treaty with Russia, as Russia warned lawmakers not to alter the treaty's terms and the White House stepped up lobbying.

Most Senate Republicans on Monday continued their unsuccessful effort to change the pact and deny President Obama a major foreign policy victory.

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on limiting debate on the treaty, which will require support of 60 of the 100 senators. If that succeeds, a vote to ratify the treaty, which needs two-thirds of the senators, could occur later today or Wednesday, and supporters think they'll have the 67 votes they need.

Supporters ramped up pressure on Monday, as Russia warned that it wouldn't renegotiate the terms, and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote the Senate a three-page letter explaining in detail why the treaty is vital to U.S. national security.

"I can only underscore that the strategic nuclear arms treaty, worked out on the strict basis of parity, in our view fully answers to the national interests of Russia and the United States," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency.

At the White House, Obama, too, kept pushing, calling individual senators, as did Vice President Joe Biden.

"If there are issues in which people have questions," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, "we are certainly happy to provide answers either through the president or the president could have other people call them." Gibbs said the White House is confident that the Senate will ratify the treaty before it adjourns.

At the Capitol, Republican opponents kept up their protests.

"Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician's desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans, voiced dismay.

"I scratch my head," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., because "the national security interests of our country are going to get wrapped up in ideology and politics."