US President Barack Obama has capped a crisis-strewn first two White House years by flexing restored power at home and abroad as he secured big wins in Congress on nuclear arms and gay rights.
Obama won Senate ratification on Wednesday of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, that he said sent a “powerful signal” to the world, and fulfilled a Democratic vow by signing a bill allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
On both issues, the president took on and beat fierce obstruction by Republicans just six weeks after his foes raised serious questions about his political viability after giving him a “shellacking” in midterm elections.
“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck [Congress], I am persistent — if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it,” Obama said in a warning to Republicans who will take over the House of Representatives and increase their Senate numbers in the new Congress next month.
Obama spoke after senators voted 71-26 to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, clearing the needed two-thirds majority for a pact the president had made a linchpin of efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow.
“This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades and it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals, along with Russia,” Obama said at a pre-Christmas press conference.
“This treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them,” he said hours after a group of Senate Republicans split with their leadership to back the deal.
In Moscow, Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the lower chamber could vote to ratify the treaty as early as today if the US Senate’s resolution on ratification “did not affect the text of the agreement,” state-run news agency RIA reported.
In addition to the US Senate, the pact must be ratified by both houses of the Russian parliament to enter into force.
The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates both houses of parliament, so approval is certain as long as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin support it.
Medvedev welcomed the US Senate’s approval and “expressed hope that the Duma and Federation Council will be ready to examine this issue and also ratify the document,” his spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.
Russian lawmakers have said they will examine the US Senate’s resolution on ratification closely, suggesting that any substantive change in the terms would mean delay or rejection.
“There is information that the resolution has a series of conditions attached,” RIA quoted Gryzlov as saying. “If these conditions do not affect the text of the agreement, then we could ratify the treaty tomorrow [Friday].”
Earlier, Obama signed a bill overturning the “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military — in a sweeping reform of the military that activists compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“We are not a nation that says: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says: ‘Out of many, we are one,’” Obama said in a euphoric ceremony at the Department of the Interior.