Senate Showdown

03.05.14

Senate To Confirm Obama’s Top Russia Negotiator

U.S.-Russia relations are in the tank but the woman who led nuclear negotiations with Moscow is set to receive a big promotion.

The Senate took a crucial step on Wednesday to confirm a State Department official whom Republicans have accused of lying to Congress about Russian violations of a nuclear treaty.

Rose Gottemoeller's nomination to be Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security reached cloture Wednesday evening by a vote of 55-45 along party lines. Her nomination only needed a simple majority of 51 votes to avoid a filibuster following the change in rules passed by Senate Democrats late last year. Gottemoeller, a Russia expert who also served in the Clinton adminstration, was the lead negotiator for the U.S. on the New START Treaty, the U.S.-Russia agreement in 2010 that limited how many strategic nuclear weapons each county could have.

Despite the fact that Republicans may be unable to prevent her confirmation, 17 GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday to object to the nomination going forward. They said that Gottemoeller failed to inform Congress during the New START debate about alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and demanded answers about her knowledge of the apparent violations.

The Daily Beast first reported last November that the Obama administration had concluded Russia potentially violated the INF Treaty and briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the violations in 2012. In January, the New York Times confirmed the report and revealed that Russia’s violations dated back to 2008 and included testing a ground based cruise missile, which is banned under the treaty.

“We are troubled, therefore, that you would file cloture on the nomination of Ms. Rose Gottemoeller, the Administration official responsible for both the New START Treaty and the preparation of the annual arms control compliance reports,” the letter, organized by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn stated. “Moreover, if a potential violation was known, and that information was not shared with the Senate during its consideration of New START, then the Senate acted on the treaty without the benefit of complete and relevant information that the Administration possessed.”

The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative GOP members of the House, also put out a fact sheet this week objecting to the Gottemoeller confirmation. They pointed out that she is also involved in the administration’s drive to negotiate a follow on agreement to New START, one which could cut U.S. nuclear forces even further.

“Russia remains a serial violator of its arms control obligations, and yet [Gottemoeller] continues to negotiate future arms control agreements with Russia,” the RSC document stated.

Thursday’s expected vote comes after more than a year of delay. President Obama first nominated Gottemoeller in Sept. 2012 but, sensing the difficulty of getting 60 votes, which was then the threshold, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee never held a hearing on her nomination.

Gottemoeller was nominated again last May. The committee held a hearing in September and approved her nomination, with some Republican objections, in October. However, the nomination expired at the end of the Congressional session and Obama had to nominate her for a third time in January.

“A hearing was not held, even though the interim Iran nuclear deal and public reports of substantial Russian cheating on its arms control obligations, among other things, had occurred in the intervening period,” the RSC document stated. “She was reported out of the committee on February 4, 2014, by voice vote, with Senators Rubio and Risch requesting to be recorded as voting in the negative.”

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Reid’s office had not complied with Republican demands that Gottemoeller’s confirmation vote, which is scheduled for Thursday morning, be postponed. A spokesman for Reid declined comment.