President Barack Obama on Tuesday gained significant Republican support for his top foreign-policy priority, a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia that in recent days had appeared all but dead for the year in the Senate.
Separately, in their long-awaited first meeting since the election, the president and Republican leaders appointed a set of negotiators to hunt for a compromise on the future of the Bush-era tax cuts, set to expire at year's end.
Obama wants the Senate to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in its current lame-duck session, but Republican leaders have resisted. On Tuesday, however, two key Senate Republicans, John McCain of Arizona and George Voinovich of Ohio, expressed confidence that the agreement could be ratified before the end of the year.
Voinovich all but said he would vote for it, after saying just weeks ago that the accord posed a threat to U.S. allies in Eastern Europe. "There seems to be a lot of coming together there and a lot more comfort [with the treaty] among our friends and allies in Europe," Voinovich said in an interview. "I think I'd be supportive."
Only one Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, has said he would vote for the treaty, though it has the support of the military and much of the Republican foreign-policy establishment.
McCain also appeared to be coming around. In mid-November, he had suggested he would take his cue from Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), who on Sunday said there was no chance the treaty would be ratified this year. But on Tuesday, McCain said on ABC's "Good Morning America," "I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl's concerns and mine about missile defense and others."
"We're making quiet, steady progress, and I want to keep it quiet for the moment," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.). Treaty ratification requires 67 votes, which means Obama needs to attract at least nine GOP votes.