Updated at 3:05 p.m. on December 15.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., backed off threats today to force a reading of the New START arms-reduction treaty after the White House assailed the delay tactic as a “new low.”
Senate leaders had estimated that a full reading of the accord could take 15 hours, which would have thrown a wrench into ambitious plans to finish work on New START, an omnibus spending bill, and several other pieces of legislation before the Senate adjourns for the year.
With a big agenda and time running down in the lame-duck session, a full reading of the text could have delayed approval of the treaty and possibly forced it into the next legislative session, where it could face more Republican opposition.
Republicans were expected to force the reading after the Senate voted this afternoon, 66-32, to go into executive session to consider the treaty. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the vote that a full reading of the treaty “is not essential.”
The Senate is expected to remain in morning business for the rest of the day, with speeches expected on the treaty. The chamber will formally return to the treaty Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
DeMint said earlier today he wanted to force a reading of the treaty “on behalf of a lot of Republicans,” amid concerns that the Senate will not provide enough time for debate on the arms-reduction accord.
“Even supporters of the treaty don’t think they need to jam a major arms agreement through right up against Christmas,” DeMint said, adding that he does not believe the treaty is being treated as the weighty issue it is.
Republicans, he said, are “signing up to watch the floor all night long, if we need to.”
DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton has said DeMint also is concerned by reports that U.S. and Russian officials have floated the idea of cooperation on European missile defense and reports that last spring, Russia had moved tactical nuclear weapons closer to its neighboring NATO countries.
Denton emphasized that debate on the treaty will not formally begin until Thursday, not today as planned.
"Senator DeMint opposes ramming the controversial START Treaty in the lame duck session," Denton said. "After Senator DeMint asked for the entire treaty to be read aloud to slow down the process, Senator Reid relented and agreed to delay the debate until tomorrow."
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, blasted Republicans for playing “political games” and argued that delaying the treaty’s approval undermines national security.
“Every day we delay is another day it is easier for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon,” Manley said in a statement. “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 reiterated previous arguments that the White House has put the treaty through nearly 1,000 questions and 20 Senate hearings. He also said it has received wide bipartisan support, including from every living Republican secretary of State.
The White House remains convinced that they have enough support in the Senate to secure the 67 votes required for ratification of a treaty. Behind the tax deal, it has been a top priority for the administration in the lame duck, receiving more attention than both the Dream Act and a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.