Endgame: Cloture vote on START treaty passes, 67-28

This wasn’t the final vote on ratification, merely the vote to end debate, but if they’ve already got two-thirds in the bank for cloture, it’s a mortal lock that the treaty will pass.

The tax cuts deal, then DADT repeal, now this. Man, I’ll bet The One wishes every session could be a lame-duck session.

The New Start treaty was the last major challenge of the session for Mr. Obama, and in some ways the most emboldening for him. The tax-cut deal required the president to swallow a compromise that extended the expiring, lowered Bush-era tax rates even for the wealthy, costing him support within his own party. The overturning of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy was driven as much by senators as by the White House.

But it was Mr. Obama who decided to make passing the treaty before the end of the year a high-profile test of his remaining clout. Despite bleak prospects for the treaty just a month ago, Mr. Obama mounted an unusually relentless campaign to win over enough Republican senators on his terms, enlisting former Republican luminaries, the nation’s military commanders and Eastern European leaders to knock down any objections…

The White House and Pentagon have insisted from the beginning that the treaty would do nothing to block American missile defense plans. On Monday, Mr. McCain unveiled a proposed amendment to the resolution of ratification that accompanies the treaty affirming that the United States will proceed with all four planned phases of missile defense in Europe by 2020 as Mr. Obama has committed to doing.

The growing support from Republicans suggested that the White House no longer needed Mr. McCain and it may choose to pocket what seems to be shaping up as a victory without making further accommodations. At the same time, it may decide to come to an agreement with Mr. McCain in the interest of building a stronger bipartisan vote for the treaty beyond the bare-minimum 66.

Here’s the roll. Eleven Republicans voted yes — Alexander, Bennett, Brown, Cochran, Collins, Corker, Isakson, Lugar, Murkowski, Snowe, and Voinovich. Those not voting included Evan Bayh, Judd Gregg, and the ailing Ron Wyden, all of whom are expected to back the treaty on the final vote, so Waffles is right for once that they might very well hit 70. And I’d bet cash money that if not for the prospect of a tea-party primary challenge next year, Hatch would have been lucky number 71.

As for the missile defense objections that Ed outlined earlier, that’s been an issue since the beginning. But I think The One’s given so many assurances by now about not letting Russia use the treaty as leverage to extract missile-shield concessions that he couldn’t cave to them without doing himself some serious political damage. The latest promise came just two days ago, in a formal, detailed letter to the Senate which Kerry took to reading aloud on the floor. Putting it in writing doesn’t guarantee that he won’t cave, but it does make things nice and easy for GOP attack ads about Democratic weakness on national security if he does. If he wants to break his promise to the public and help elect a Republican president in 2012 or 2016, whereupon the missile shield will be duly reinstated, hey.

Here’s Lindsey Graham, one of the 28 votes, sounding off at the presser afterwards. Apart from Kyl, he’s been the most vocal objector to the treaty on the Republican side lately; whether that’s a byproduct of his hawkishness or a bow to the reality of his own primary challenge down the road is anyone’s guess. Said DeMint at the same presser, “We join millions of Americans who are outraged,” which is true — there are millions who oppose it. But if you believe CNN’s latest poll, those millions are in a very small minority.