GOP lawmaker says Dems pressured to 'stay away' from UN reform legislation

The Obama administration is telling Democrats to stay away from a GOP bill to reform the United Nations, according to the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) says the Obama administration is pressuring House Democrats not to co-sponsor her legislation, which would cut off U.S. funding for the U.N. unless it ensures at least 80 percent of its programs are funded through voluntary contributions.

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"We have no Democrat co-sponsors, and as far as I have heard … they have been asked to stay away from the bill," Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill this week. "And of course, if you ask administration officials, they will tell you, 'Of course we don't do that.' "

Ros-Lehtinen said the opposition won't stop her from pushing forward next month with the legislation, which she casts as a response to an organization that allows countries like China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and others to control the Human Rights Council.

The bill, which has 98 GOP co-sponsors, threatens to withhold half of the $3 billion the U.S. contributes to the U.N. every year until 80 percent of all U.N. programs are funded through voluntary contributions. It is meant to allow countries to only fund the U.N. programs that they support.

Ros-Lehtinen said she has tentatively planned a markup of her legislation on Oct. 13, when she expects House Democrats to propose their own reform ideas. Democrats have not officially offered a bill, but Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) made it clear in April that while he supports more accountability at the U.N., he opposes Ros-Lehtinen's approach.

"By withholding a significant portion of our assessed dues unless a nearly impossible list of conditions is met, this bill would severely hinder our ability to pursue U.S. foreign policy and national-security interests, support our allies and achieve the reforms that both the chairman and I think are necessary," he said.

Earlier this month, a State Department official agreed that the bill would threaten to undercut U.S. influence at the U.N., and ignores the "significant and sustained success" the U.S. has had in pushing for reforms.

But Ros-Lehtinen says these arguments ignore the growing frustration most Americans have with the U.N. Aside from allowing countries with poor human-rights records to control the Human Rights Council, she has said the U.N. has an anti-Israel slant, as seen in the 2009 "Goldstone Report," which the bills says "falsely accused Israel of deliberately attacking Palestinian civilians." The bill clarifies that U.S. policy is to repudiate the Goldstone Report, and sets U.S. policy in a range of other areas.

"The administration is wanting very much to not have this be a bipartisan bill, and that's too bad because there are a lot of U.N. apologists out there," Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill. "What I've been finding out when I talk to average Americans about the U.N. problems is, they're outraged."

She adds that while U.N. reform in itself is a laudable goal, she purposefully coupled it with the idea of withholding contributions in light of the dire fiscal reality the U.S. government is facing.

"Now that we're broke, we really need accountability and reform more than ever," she said. "So I'm keying my bill onto the dismal economic picture that we're facing now, and I don't see in the foreseeable future that will change."

She also rejected what she called criticism from the "sophisticates" who oppose her bill, saying that they reflect a status-quo mentality that seems to imply it's not worth trying to win needed reforms at the U.N.

"I don't think it's a backwards bill as the sophisticates have said," she said. "I know it's sophisticated to be pro-U.N. no matter how crazy they are, but I think there are better uses for our money."

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