Senate smooths path for nuclear treaty

WASHINGTON — Senate approval of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty was assured, as enough Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday in a test vote to put President Obama on the brink of a major foreign policy triumph.

The Senate voted 67-28 to cut off debate on the pact, a majority strong enough to ensure that the New START treaty will get the two-thirds majority it needs for approval in the 100-member Senate. A final vote is expected today.

Eleven Republicans joined 54 Democrats and two independents to form the majority vote. Three Republicans and two Democrats didn't vote: Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who's undergoing treatment for cancer and isn't expected to make the final vote.

Obama and his national security team personally lobbied lawmakers right up to the vote.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, described the president's one-on-one approach as relatively "benign."

Murkowski voted to cut off debate. She was joined by a string of Republicans who came to the Senate floor one by one to announce that they'd go along despite the stout opposition of the GOP's top two Senate leaders, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip Jon Kyl or Arizona.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate's third-ranking Republican, voted with the majority, saying he did so because the treaty "leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come, and because the president has committed to an $85 billion, 10-year plan to make sure that those weapons work."

Other Republicans, though, contended that the treaty would hamstring American efforts to develop a missile defense system that would sufficiently protect the United States and its allies. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military officials dispute that. Five secretaries of state for former Republican presidents have endorsed the treaty.