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Clinton to Make New START Ratification Push in McConnell’s Backyard

If Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Friday statement that nuclear arms-reduction treaties typically command large bipartisan majorities was a first nudge to get the Senate to ratify the New START accord with Russia, late next week will showcase a second and more direct push. Clinton’s aides are planning for her to make a speech urging ratification in Kentucky, the home state of the GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

The details are still up in the air, but administration sources said Clinton would probably speak on Friday, April 9. That’s an auspicious day for arms control: the day before, Presidents Obama and Medvedev will sign the accord to reduce their nuclear stockpiles by 30 percent, and the following week will feature a 43- or 44-nation conference on nuclear security in Washington. The venue will probably the University of Louisville, but that hasn’t been completely nailed down.

It marks the first sign of an aggressive push for Clinton to get the treaty the seven GOP votes needed for ratification. (Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has already lent New START his vote.) McConnell is an unusual case: He didn’t cast a vote for or against the last nuclear weapons treaty in 2003. And he’s already sounded sour notes about New START over its linkage to missile defense and verification — the administration is adamant that the treaty doesn’t impact missile defense and its verification procedures are way tougher than those in the last couple treaties with the Russians — subsequently raising questions about whether McConnell’s legislative strategy of omnibus obstruction doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. If McConnell ends up siding against the treaty, then he’ll be bucking history. At least the last two arms-reduction accords with Russia have passed with the support of the Senate minority leader, whether it was Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in 2003 or Bob Dole (R-Kans.) a decade earlier.

Administration officials have expressed confidence that they’ll get New START through the Senate once they start making the case for it on the merits. Clinton’s speech next week effectively represents the beginnings of that effort.

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