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November 30, 2015

Bob Dole, Veterans Groups Push Disabilities Treaty

Former Senate Majority Leader Dole, R-Kan., speaks with Sen. Ayotte, R-N.H., after a news conference urging the Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Senate Majority Leader Dole, R-Kan., speaks with Sen. Ayotte, R-N.H., after a news conference urging the Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Despite remaining short of the 67 votes needed to ratify the United Nation’s disability treaty, disabled veterans groups are pushing for a vote to identify the holdouts.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., at a press conference urging ratification, said the treaty is a no-brainer to help veterans.

“I just hope the Republicans will take another look and support this treaty,” Dole said.

“This is a common sense thing … so … the people in wheelchairs can have the same rights when they travel overseas as able-bodied persons.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is also backing the effort to get another vote.

“It is their desire to get people on record and have a vote, that is what they want and I am responding to that,” he said.

The issue is expected to come up after the August recess, according to Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“It amazes me that we have to fight for something that should be so basic,” Tarantino said, adding that veterans groups will be out pressing the matter with lawmakers.

“Right now it’s obvious the votes are not there,” McCain said, pointing to Tuesday’s 12 to 6 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with all Republicans opposing the treaty except for McCain and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who joined with Democrats in support.

Dole, 91, was on hand in the lame-duck session of 2012 when, despite the support from the former Senate majority leader and World War II veteran, Republicans opposed the treaty and it fell short by six votes.

McCain believes they remain about six votes short of the 67 needed for ratification.

Dole said he was “disappointed” by the failed vote, which he attributed, in part, to the mobilization campaign by those concerned that treaty would affect parents’ ability to home-school their children.

“We knew we had an uphill battle,” Dole said. “When my Kansas senators voted against it, I knew we were in trouble. … The home-schoolers flooded their phones for days. I can understand why it might alter their judgment. I didn’t agree, but it’s their right.”

McCain acknowledged that another failed Senate vote on the treaty could be “a setback” making ratification more difficult in the future, but he noted that in addition to veterans and disabled groups pushing for a vote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., were planning to hold another vote anyway.

The groups “have been working and working and working, and they are disappointed, but they said ‘look, we want a vote on the floor of the Senate,’” McCain said. “And whether I had wanted one, or not, Sen. Menendez and Sen. Reid were going to force this vote too. But I want to do what our veterans and our disability community [want]. They are the ones who are going to be affected by this, not me.”

While he agreed that he hasn’t heard from any GOP Senator changing their position, Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., who also appeared at the press conference, said he believes additional support could be spurred by the advent of the scandal at the Veterans Administration, where some veterans have died waiting for medical treatment because of mismanagement at the agency.

“Especially after the VA scandal, Senators should really want to cast a pro veterans vote on this treaty,” he said after the press conference.

“This is the number one veterans issue before the Senate,” Kirk said.

The treaty would extend the rights granted to Americans under the Americans with Disabilities Act to people around the world.

But the treaty has been sternly opposed by homeschooling advocates and others who argue that the treaty “surrenders U.S. sovereignty to unelected UN bureaucrats and will threaten parental care of children with disabilities,” according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Our nation already has laws to protect Americans with disabilities. This treaty is unnecessary and will hurt families by giving bureaucrats, instead of parents, the power to decide what is in the best interests of a child with disabilities.”

Opponents also cite concerns that the treaty may implicitly require countries to have more liberal abortion rights policies.

But Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who also attended the press conference, argued that these concerns are not based in fact.

“There have been a lot of myths about this treaty,” Ayotte said. “It does not interfere with our sovereignty, for those who want to home school their children, there’s absolutely nothing in this treaty that is going to interfere with any Americans’ right to home school their children,” she said.

“There is nothing in this treaty that is going to create any new rights with regard to abortion,” she said. “This is an issue that people have strong feelings on, on both sides of the aisle. That is not what this treaty is about.”

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