Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, calls for a bill that would permanently extend the current individual tax rates on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 2, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Ratification of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty passed a key procedural hurdle Wednesday when the U.S. Senate voted to proceed with debate.
Senators voted 66-32 for cloture, allowing consideration of the START treaty to move forward.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the chamber would take up the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Thursday. The remainder of Wednesday's session was devoted to general speeches that Reid said could include discussion of the treaty.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said a reading of the treaty was "not essential."
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. James DeMint, R-S.C., said he would ask for a reading of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty, which Democrats say could consume up to 15 hours. DeMint said the administration hasn't shared the complete record of negotiations with the Senate and argues that new senators should have a chance to review the document, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would cap the Russian and U.S. arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each. It also would provide for a resumption of on-site inspections of the two countries' nuclear weapons facilities, among other things.
DeMint's spokesman, Wesley Denton, said in a statement that the senator wanted to stop the treaty from being "rammed through during the lame-duck session," a position that drew sharp criticism from Reid's office and the White House.
Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, said the treaty has been available for senators to read since May, noting, "Every day we delay is another day it is easier for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. But this tiny minority of Republican senators would rather play games than make sure we have American inspectors on the ground monitoring Russia's nuclear stockpile."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs criticized DeMint's announced move, calling it "a new low in putting political stunts ahead of our national security ... ."
Gibbs noted the treaty was subject of nearly 20 Senate hearings, and is supported by former President George H.W. Bush, all living GOP secretaries of state, NATO allies and the U.S. military leadership.