WASHINGTON -- Maine's two moderate Republican senators announced on Friday morning that they would support the START Treaty, a nuclear weapons pact with Russia that President Obama has called critical to his foreign policy agenda.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both came out in support of the treaty. The former conditioned her support on ensuring that the amendment process for START's consideration is open. The latter was less conditional.
In coming out in favor of the treaty, the two Maine Republicans give one of the more positive indications to date that it actually may pass the Senate. START requires 67 votes for ratification. And so far, Republicans members, with a few exceptions, have balked at offering their support.
But political circumstances have evolved in recent days. The impending resolution of the tax cut debate has helped paved the way for START's consideration (it's been long rumored that the president's decision to negotiate away tax cuts for the wealthy was tied to Senate Republicans backing the nuclear treaty). In addition, earlier in the week, George H.W. Bush offered a one-line statement of support for START. Collins had previously said she would value the former president's endorsement when considering her own.
UPDATE: Collins' office sends over the following statement from the Senator.
The New START represents a continued effort to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I support the President's commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse - and those are tactical nuclear weapons.
FURTHER UPDATE: Snowe's office, meanwhile, offered the following statement.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, was signed by the United States and Russia on April 8th and transmitted for the advice and consent of the Senate on May 13th of this year. Since then, the U.S. Senate has held 18 hearings and as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have worked with my colleagues to scrutinize this agreement and ensure any classified matters are properly vetted. Much has changed since the original START was first negotiated in 1991, and as a result I have supported efforts to make certain that questions regarding our ability to verify Russian compliance with the Treaty's limits, to develop and deploy effective missile defenses, and to modernize our nuclear weapons complex, have been satisfactorily resolved.
I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security. Therefore, if the Majority moves to consider New START under a framework that allows for sufficient debate and amendments, I intend to support the Resolution of Advice and Consent.