Ratification: Senate passes START, 71-26

So excited is The One by his big win that he’s called a presser at 4:15, presumably to spike the ball after a week filled with lame-duck legislative touchdowns.

Maybe it’s a good thing that the GOP didn’t take back the Senate. The way we’ve been going over the past month, that might have led them to pass the omnibus spending bill this week too.

The final vote came after Senate Democrats accepted two amendments designed to placate Republicans who had qualms about the treaty. The amendments, which passed on voice votes with bipartisan support, emphasized the administration’s commitment to a limited missile-defense program and to continued funding to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

The amendments were to the resolution of ratification accompanying the treaty, a nonbinding statement that codifies the Senate’s understanding of the pact but does not directly affect its language. Republican efforts to alter the treaty language were defeated, with supporters of the pact arguing that such changes would have forced new negotiations with Moscow and effectively killed the treaty.

In a floor speech shortly before the ratification vote, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman who shepherded the treaty through the Senate, implored senators to put politics aside and take a broad view. “This is one of those rare times in the United States Senate . . . when we have it in our power to safeguard or endanger human life on this planet,” he said. “More than any other, this issue should transcend politics. . . . More than at almost any other time, the people of the world are watching us because they rely on our leadership.”

It’s nice that Waffles thinks he won a big meaningful victory with this rather insignificant, symbolic pact. Republicans voting yes: Alexander, Bennett, Brown, Cochran, Collins, Corker, Gregg, Isakson, Lugar, Murkowski, Snowe, Voinovich, and Mike Johanns, who was the only member of the caucus to flip from no on cloture to yes on the treaty. (Judd Gregg missed the cloture vote.) I was amazed yesterday to see so many Republicans defect after both McConnell and Kyl, the chief negotiator for the GOP, said they’d vote no — Fred Kaplan at Slate thinks the White House will never take Kyl seriously again — but read this post at Foreign Policy to see what was going on behind the scenes. Evidently the united GOP front over the past few months was merely a ploy to extract concessions from Obama on modernizing the arsenal; there was never agreement within the caucus on the treaty itself, which I guess led McConnell to proceed cautiously lest he lose a test of wills with proponents and have his authority undermined right before the new Senate is seated. In fact, if not for the likelihood of a tea-party challenge in 2012, I bet McConnell would have voted yes too just to save face and make it appear as if the other Republican supporters weren’t defying him in voting for it.

Here’s Krauthammer from last night’s O’Reilly spiking the ball on Obama’s behalf by wondering how he managed to pull off a string of wins just six weeks after being totally destroyed at the polls. Ezra Klein has the right answer to that, I think: A bunch of moderate Republicans in the Senate are obviously wary of the tea party faction that’s about to be sworn in and want to bank as many bipartisan “victories” as they can beforehand. Ace attributes that to a candy-ass tendency towards pleasing the liberal “leadership class,” but I think their calculations are simpler and more cold-blooded. Blue-state Republicans like Brown and Snowe figure, with good reason, that Congress won’t get much done over the next two years and they worry that voters back home might blame them for gridlock even if they personally cast votes for compromise. That’s always a concern for incumbents when government is divided, but at a moment when tea party legislators will be eager to prove to the base how willing they are to stand up to Obama, it may mean that this really is their last chance to add meaningful votes to their resume. Plus, both of them will have to tack right over the next two years to defend their right flank in the primary, so better to compromise as much as they can now. Obama and Reid doubtless recognized all that and chose to take advantage by forcing a lot of big votes in the lame-duck. Smart thinkin’.