In the face of accusations that the administration had withheld information from Congress on possible Russian violations of an arms treaty, the Senate on March 6 voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to be his top arms control official.
Rose Gottemoeller, first nominated in September 2012 to replace Ellen Tauscher as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, had been serving as acting undersecretary and as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. She was the main U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which the Senate approved in December 2010.
The Senate approved Gottemoeller’s nomination by a nearly party-line vote, 58-42, with the support of 50 Democrats, six Republicans, and two independents. Three Democrats and 39 Republicans were opposed.
The Republicans voting for Gottemoeller were Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). The Democrats opposing her were Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and John Walsh (Mont.).
After being approved twice by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once last October and again in February, Gottemoeller’s nomination was held up by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others over concerns that the administration had dragged its feet in informing them about Russia’s possible violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, March 2014.)
In a Feb. 28 statement, Rubio and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Risch (R-Idaho) accused Gottemoeller of “failing to quickly pursue evidence of Russia’s [non]compliance with multiple arms control agreements and her delay in making the Senate aware of these violations.”
The three senators also said they were “frustrated” that the administration did not make a written commitment that “any future U.S. nuclear reductions would be carried out only through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate” and not by unilateral or other means that did not involve a treaty, such as reciprocal reductions carried out by the United States and Russia in 1991.
At Gottemoeller’s confirmation hearing Sept. 26, Rubio pressed her on the issue of unilateral cuts. Gottemoeller replied that the administration had already begun to pursue an arms control treaty with Russia, a process she described as “a difficult slog.” She said that “unilateral reductions are not on the table,” but did not rule them out in the future. (See ACT, November 2013.)
The administration is still seeking Senate confirmation of other senior officials for positions dealing with nuclear weapons policy, including Adam Scheinman, currently senior adviser to the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, to be special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation; Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, to take Gottemoeller’s assistant secretary position; Frank Klotz, former commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, to be head of the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Brian McKeon, staff director of the National Security Council, to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.
These nominees have been approved by the relevant Senate committees except for McKeon, who was grilled on the INF Treaty issue during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25. Because he was one of the administration’s main liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification debate in December 2010, some senators asked him why the issue was not brought to their attention at that time.
McKeon testified that U.S. intelligence agencies might have “flagged” the possible INF Treaty violation “literally the day before” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on New START on Sept. 16, 2010. “I believe...that the [intelligence community] and the executive branch were committed to providing timely information about potential concerns,” McKeon said.
McKeon, blaming bureaucracy for the delay, said that “[o]ne of the great joys of working in the executive branch as opposed to the legislative branch is you get to coordinate your letters with about 50 people. And the clearance process took longer than I would have liked.”
Not satisfied with that response, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote a March 6 letter asking Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) not to approve McKeon until he provides additional information on the issue.
Ayotte and Wicker wrote that they were “convinced” that “the administration did not inform the Senate, as was its obligation, of a potential material breach of one arms control treaty while asking for the ratification of another.”