Sen. Barrasso Wants Changes to START Treaty

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 21, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARK STEYN, GUEST HOST: For the first time in American history, the United States Senate is preparing to ratify a treaty during a lame duck session of Congress. The unprecedented vote on a new strategic arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia is expected to take place tomorrow.

Many on the right have expressed anger at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to allow defeated senators to vote on this measure. And others like Senator John McCain want changes made to the agreement. In particular to the preamble which essentially allows Russia to opt-out if the United States makes advancements to its missile defense systems.

A group of unhappy GOP senators spoke with reporters earlier today in Washington. Let's take a look.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-WY.: The Senate is not a rubber stamp, not for the administration, not for Russia and as one senator, I am not ready to stamp this treaty.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I think this is a monumental mistake by the United State Senate to ratify a treaty in the lame duck.

SEN. JIM DEMINT , R-S.C.: And it is clear with this treaty that they are trying to cram something else down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas, with a Congress that has just been changed by the American people.


STEYN: Despite the concerns of the Senate as you just heard, it does appear that enough Republicans will vote in favor of the treaty when a final vote takes place.

And joining me now is one of the GOP senators who attended today's press conference, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso. Senator, what is it that your colleagues in the republican caucus don't get about this? The nine Republicans who are going to give the president his super majority on this treaty?

BARRASSO: Well, every senator, when their name is called has to either vote for or against and what's in the best interests of the United States. Our founding fathers set this up, so it would take a two/thirds vote of the United Sates Senate to assure the American people that the president got it right. And I am not convinced that this administration got it right.

Do we need a treaty with Russia? Yes. But not this treaty. I think, we should make some changes. And Senator McCain and I had an amendment that we forth forward this weekend that fundamentally changes the preamble of this START Treaty to take away our limits to defend ourselves. I don't think there's any place for that in this treaty.

STEYN: And as you say, that is really nothing to do with the Russians. Why should the Russians have a veto on United States missile defense against Iran or Venezuela or North Korea or any other third party who wants to lob something our way? Why has that been allowed to get as far as it has got? And are you not reassured by the president's supposed letter to senators assuring you that there is nothing to worry about on that front?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm not reassured, because I believe that it doesn't matter what the generals or the president thinks that the preamble means and they say it is not binding. I care what the Russians think it means. And they say that it is binding. And just today, the foreign minister of Russia warned the United States not to make any changes at all. Well, to me, I think we ought to make some changes. And that means sending it back to the Russians and have them then decide whether they want to accept or negotiate those changes. But the job of the Senate is to advise and consent not to be a rubber stamp.

STEYN: And there are some other features in this treaty that are disturbing too. For example, the bilateral commission does not seem something that is obviously in the United States' interests when it comes to something like missile defense. Nor for example, prohibitions on using -- converting weaponry that is for offensive use to defensive use, to take something that would once had been a missile, you would fire at some other country and convert it into something that you can use for missile defense against an incoming missile. Why is this stuff the business of the Russians, at all?

BARRASSO: Well, I think it shouldn't be. I'd also think that we really missed the boat by not including issues of tactical nuclear weapons where the Russians right now for every one tactical nuclear weapon we have in the United States, they have 10 that's been left out completely. And, you know, Ronald Reagan used to say, trust but verify. We actually have less of an ability to verify now with this new treaty than we did with the old treaty. So, we are relying much more on trust than we are on verifying. So, for those reasons, tomorrow I'm going to vote against ratification of the START Treaty on the floor of the United States Senate.

STEYN: Why have you been unable to persuade your colleagues -- very imminent colleagues -- someone like Senator Lugar for example, Senator Alexander? These are people who have a reputation as strong conservatives, many of them. Why is it that they are providing the president with his super majority on this?

BARRASSO: Well, they can answer for themselves. They will have to answer how they feel about the treaty when they vote tomorrow. Each senator has that obligation and responsibility. If they vote for the treaty, it means that they feel a level of comfort that there is adequate verification or there are adequate issues of missile defense by the president's letter. But I don't believe there is. I would rather make changes and send this back to the Russians and give them an opportunity to then think and decide and vote on it at that point. But I don't think that we should be rushed into something, let alone bullied by a Russian foreign minister, who says, and warns the United States, no changes will be tolerated.

STEYN: Just to go back to the historic point. You are not just being bullied by a Russian foreign minister. You are also being bullied by Harry Reid. Why is this the business of a lame duck Congress? Why for the first time in history is a major international treaty being passed by a Congress in the lame duck session in a couple of days before the end of the year, and the arrival of a whole new Congress that has democratic legitimacy?

BARRASSO: Senator Reid could have brought this up months ago. He chose not to. But now that we have duly elected new senators who will be coming to the Senate and get sworn in on January 5th, I think that he had an obligation to allow them to be sworn in and then cast those votes. They are the elected senators, chosen by the American people, 13 on the Republican side have all signed a letter to Senator Reid, saying please delay the vote and the discussion to January. We have things to say. We have input that we want to make. We've been traveling around our home states, running for office, have input from people and we want to bring that voice to Washington and express that voice in terms of the START Treaty. So, I think it was a mistake to go, at this time, when we have 13 new Republican senators, three new Democrat senators and they are not being allowed to vote on the treaty.

STEYN: Well, I hope that argument on I guess constitutional seemliness has some sway over Senator Lugar and others. Thank you very much senator and Merry Christmas to you.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

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