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 votes they needed for ratification as Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts announced he would support the treaty and a top Democrat said longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran was on board.
"I've done my due diligence. ... I believe it's something that's important to our country," Brown said of the treaty after a classified briefing for all senators by intelligence officials. Brown had received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in recent days.
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.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., read parts of Mullen's letter at the closed briefing.
Senior Democrats pushed toward a decisive vote on Tuesday to cut off debate and set the stage for a final vote later in the week. Republicans and Democrats were discussing amendments to the accompanying resolution - not the treaty - that would address GOP concerns about missile defense and build support for the agreement.
Obama's top foreign policy priority before the year's end is ratification of the treaty.
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.
"No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone's political check list before the end of the year," said Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has said he would oppose the treaty.
McConnell contended the Senate has not had enough time to debate the accord. He also has criticized the treaty's verification system and expressed concern that the pact would limit U.S. missile defense options even though Obama insisted in a letter that the treaty imposes no restrictions on the system to protect the U.S. and its allies.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Republican lawmakers had legitimate concerns, but "we believe that we've answered those concerns." So at this point, he said, objections "are more about politics than substance."