James Jay Carafano: A new START for the DeMint treatment on national security

Jim DeMint, R-SC, has a reputation for caring about national security more than just about anyone else in the Senate.  But in 2007, he drew howls from veterans, voting against a Veterans Affairs bill.

The backstory here is key.  As DeMint tells it, the Veterans Administration wanted to downsize an under-utilized  hospital in Los Angeles, and plan to sell some adjacent parkland, plowing the proceeds, an estimated $5 billion, back into the VA budget.

“But,” DeMint recalls, “Hollywood friends of the two California Senators wanted to keep the area as a park, so the bill included an ‘earmark’ to prohibit the VA from selling the property.”

That’s why DeMint cast a principled but unpopular “nay”: to make the point that, it is not okay to pass up billions for veterans care in favor of preserving a public playground for the “beautiful people.”

DeMint doesn’t mind playing the maverick when national security is on the line.

He did it again earlier this month, when Foreign Relations Committee was set to pass the New START nuclear agreement with Russia on to the full Senate. Until then, most critics of the treaty contented themselves by simply saying it needed to be studied closely. The didn’t want to draw the fire of the “no-nukes” crowd. 

Not DeMint. “The nuclear-weapons treaty President Obama has negotiated with the Russians may help him make America’s erstwhile Cold War adversary happy,” he declared, “but it won’t help protect us from the rogue nations that threaten the United States today.”  He proceeded to offer some hard-hitting amendments to try fix the treaty’s flaws.

The amendments failed, and the committee sent New START to the full Senate.  But DeMint clearly intends to press his point.

That Friday he spoke at the Value Voters Summit, a mammoth conservative convention mounted in Washington, D.C., by the Family Research Council Action. The summit focuses on social and fiscal issues, and DeMint’s did hit on those issues.

But he also made a point of questioning the New START and plugging missile defense–something many analysts (including me!) fear might have to be curtailed because of language in the treaty.

Two days later, DeMint spoke out again in the opinion pages of The Washington Post. “Obama’s honeymoon is over,” he wrote. “None of his so-called legislative achievements lives up to its label.” Nor, he noted, does New START.

DeMint appears determined to do his best to keep the treaty from being added to the Administration’s “achievement” list.  But he has work cut out for him.

Three of his fellow Republicans voted for the treaty in the committee mark-up.  The President needs to pick up only a handful more votes from across the aisle to reach the 67-vote threshold required for passage.

Some time between now and the end of post-election “lame duck” session, the Administration hopes to bring the treaty to the Senate floor for a final approval. It will be interesting to watch between now and then how much of a national security maverick DeMint plans to make of himself, and if he’ll try to force more debate.

Perhaps the Senator will press the Administration to turn over the treaty’s negotiating record—something it has so far refused to do. Those records would reveal what, if any, side-deals were cut over missile defense to get Moscow’s sign-off on the treaty. 

That’s critical information, something  the full Senate needs before it can provide informed “advice and consent” regarding New START.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

CongressNational securityOp Edsop-edOpinion

Just Posted

The Hotel Whitcomb on Market Street was one of many hotels that took in homeless people as part of The City’s shelter-in-place hotel program during the pandemic.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Closing hotels could disconnect hundreds from critical health care services

‘That baseline of humanity and dignity goes a long way’

Pachama, a Bay Area startup, is using technology to study forests and harness the carbon-consuming power of trees. (Courtesy Agustina Perretta/Pachama)
Golden Gate Park visitors may take a survey about options regarding private car access on John F. Kennedy Drive, which has been the subject of controversy during the pandemic.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Your chance to weigh in: Should JFK remain closed to cars?

Host of mobility improvements for Golden Gate Park proposed

San Francisco supervisors are considering plans to replace trash cans — a “Renaissance” garbage can is pictured on Market Street — with pricey, unnecessary upgrades. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco must end ridiculous and expensive quest for ‘pretty’ trash cans

SF’s unique and pricey garbage bins a dream of disgraced former Public Works director

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. (Courtesy Salesforce)
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

Most Read