And almost as quickly as he dropped the hint, he picked it back up and put it in his pocket.

“I felt like momentum was growing for START,” Corker said, adding that since Reid announced he was holding votes on DADT and DREAM, it has had a “chilling effect.”

“I’m watching support for the treaty erode, because of highly partisan political issues being brought up solely because activist groups in the Democratic Party want this done,” he continued.

Corker said he wasn’t issuing a personal threat, and was merely commenting on the reaction of his Senate GOP colleagues. When I pressed Senator Corker on whether Republican Senators would really base their decision on START on whether Reid held a vote on DADT, Corker didn’t answer directly.

“That being thrown into the middle of this debate is causing many Republicans to want to see START pushed back and candidly is causing them to oppose it,” Corker said. “This is hardening them against passage of this treaty at this time.”

That’s what he told Greg Sargent at a little after 4 p.m., after suggesting in his floor speech earlier today that the DADT/DREAM votes tomorrow might have put the future of START at risk. Which would kinda sorta be believable if either of those bills were new business in the Senate requiring intense focus and fresh deliberation. They aren’t. They’re the opposite of that: The Senate already voted on DADT last week when it was attached to the defense bill and they’ve held numerous votes on DREAM over the years, including one back in September when it too was tucked into a larger bill. As “distractions” go, in other words, these ain’t all that distracting. I don’t get Corker’s point about disrupting START deliberations by bringing up “highly partisan political issues” either. That omnibus spending bill was pretty darned partisan and disruptive too, but somehow the GOP managed to overcome their objections to it to pass the tax cuts deal — overwhelmingly — on Wednesday. And in any case, neither DADT nor DREAM will be symbolic, purely partisan votes. There are several Republicans in favor of each, and DADT at least is likely to pass.

Less than 40 minutes after he first spoke to Sargent, Corker called him back to stress that the GOP wouldn’t oppose START permanently because of DADT but that their position on it at the moment was “hardening.” I take that as a sign that there’s some tension inside the caucus right now on whether to push this line. On the one hand, as you’ll see below, McCain and Kyl went out of their way on the Senate floor to stress that START will be considered on the merits. Obviously they’re worried that the GOP will be accused of not taking national security seriously if they’re seen as treating the treaty merely as a bargaining chip vis-a-vis DADT. On the other hand, Graham is telling Politico that the DADT/DREAM vote may have “poisoned the well” against START. Which leaves us … where, exactly? At last check, McConnell claims he’s not sure how the START vote’s going to go (although he’s optimistic about blocking DREAM), but Dan Foster at NRO says it sure sounds like the Dems are about to lose a few key Republicans when they really can’t afford to lose even one — especially now that Ron Wyden may miss the vote. Down to the wire!

Tags: Republicans