Kerry and Hagel tag-team Senate on disabilities treaty

President Obama dispatched his top diplomat and his defense chief this week to press lawmakers to quickly pass a U.N. disabilities treaty that faces tough opposition from some conservatives.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryGraham criticizes Trump canceling Pelosi trip as 'inappropriate’ Howard Dean to CNN: All Dem candidates qualified to be president except Tulsi Gabbard Not your ‘grandfather’s’ campaign: 2020 Dems look to stand out in crowded race MORE vowed Thursday to work with senators on reservations to the treaty to ensure their support. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement of support on behalf of wounded American veterans and their families.

“We want senators to feel comfortable so we're prepared to address legitimate concerns,” Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations panel. “We want to act in good faith ...  so you're not feeling like you're entering into a quicksand deal.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The White House and Senate Foreign Relations chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have launched a full-court press to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Ratification, which requires a two-thirds majority, fell five votes short last year.

The push has included support from major U.S. business groups and companies, including Coca-Cola and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and nonprofit and religious groups such as the Red Cross and Easter Seals. Support from the military has also been pouring in.

“On behalf of America's service members, [Defense Department] civilians, and military family members with disabilities, I urge the United States Senate to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Hagel said in a statement issued Wednesday. “One of the legacies of the past twelve years of war is that thousands of young Americans will carry physical wounds for the rest of their lives. These wounded warriors deserve to have the same opportunities to live, work, and travel as every other American, and to participate fully in society whether at home or abroad.”

Kerry and Hagel's predecessors – Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta – testified in favor of the treaty last when Kerry was the panel's chairman. The treaty still narrowly failed on a 61 to 38 vote.

Opponents of ratification worry it could impact Americans' ability to home-school their children. Advocates say those fears are unjustified and that the treaty would require other countries to move closer to the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (Tenn.), pressed Kerry to ensure that the treaty would never be used to impose U.N. standards on U.S. law. Corker voted against the treaty last year but now says he's “neutral.”

“It is absolutely incumbent on the administration,” Corker said, “to agree to very difficult language that absolutely assures [members] that a treaty like this will not infringe federalism and other kinds of issues that are very important to both sides of the aisle.”

Ratifying the treaty would have “no impact on parental rights, home-schooling or any other aspect of U.S. law,” Kerry answered.

He said failure to ratify the treaty has left the U.S. unable to share its expertise on disability rights in the global arena. As a result, he said, other countries with a “different and often lower threshold end up filling the void.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill