By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON – The lame-duck session of Congress has introduced Americans to the three-party system of government: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Petulant Party.
Eight founding fathers of the Petulants took the stage Tuesday morning in the Senate TV studio to provide an update on their latest cause: the defeat of the nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The New START treaty, which the Senate approved on Wednesday, has the enthusiastic support of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rest of the top military brass, not to mention all six living secretaries of state who served in Republican administrations.
But the Petulants do not care about Republican wise men. They do not care about the wishes of the uniformed military. What they care about is preserving the sanctity of … Christmas vacation?
“The fact that we’re doing this under the cover of Christmas,” complained Sen. Jim DeMint, P-S.C., “is something to be outraged about.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, P-S.C., was outraged. “Here we are, the week of Christmas, about to pass potentially a treaty,” he protested.
And the leader of the group, Sen. Jon Kyl, P-Ariz., is already on record saying the Democrats’ legislative agenda amounts to “disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.”
So it has come to this: Members of the Petulant Party want to stop the START treaty (and block a bill that would help Ground Zero first responders pay medical bills) because they wish to get home to their figgy pudding. This might be called playing the Christmas card.
Of course, the Petulants’ objections had little to do with yule. You don’t defy the national security judgment of the U.S. military and reject the wisdom of generations of GOP elder statesmen simply because you have concerns related to the Advent calendar.
Petulant leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) spelled out the real reason on the Senate floor Monday. McConnell, who said Republicans’ “single most important” goal was Obama’s defeat, said that in this case he didn’t want to facilitate “some politician’s desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year.”
So powerful has been the Petulants’ desire to deny Obama a news conference that they defied the recommendation of Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a Bush administration holdover) in their unsuccessful defense on Saturday of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members. And, separately, the Petulants’ efforts to prevent the Sept. 11 bill from coming to the floor earned labels such as “disgrace” and “national shame” from the usually friendly hosts at Fox News.
Quizzed about the Sept. 11 bill on Fox News Sunday, Kyl belittled the “emotional appeal” made by the first responders.
But Kyl was the one making an emotional appeal on Tuesday. He started his START press conference with a complaint that Democrats took “a very partisan approach to this treaty.”
That must be how they won the support of Colin Powell, Jim Baker and Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Other Petulants complained that Democrats were trying to “rush it through” (John Thune, South Dakota) or “jamming the Congress” (Graham).
This “rush” lasted eight months and included extensive hearings before three Senate committees.
Still, Sen. Jeff Sessions, P-Ala., said the “rush” prevented a discussion of the fact that “the number one threat … comes from Iran, South Korea and other places.”
“North Korea,” corrected Kyl.
Orrin Hatch, P-Utah, said the rush meant that “I have to withdraw my support for something that I would like to support.”
But the petulance could not prevent an outbreak of reason on the Senate floor. “I will vote for the treaty because the last six Republican secretaries of state support its ratification,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced, adding that ratification “would extend the policies of President Nixon, President Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush.”
A couple of hours later, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., added his support. “If you look at the makeup of our Joint Chiefs,” he argued, “every single one of these gentlemen was appointed by a Republican president,” and “each of these people have firmly stated their support for this treaty.”
“The question,”Corker said, “is will we say ‘yes’ to yes?”
On Tuesday, enough Republicans said “yes” to send the treaty to ratification on Wednesday. But the Petulant Party is only getting organized. As McConnell told Politico this week: “If they think it’s bad now, wait ’til next year.”
Dana Milbank’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. David Broder’s column is expected to resume after Christmas.