It’s Bob Dole vs. the home-school lobby, round two.
This marks the second time the former senator will square off against Mike Farris, president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, on the same issue: an international treaty on rights for people with disabilities.
Farris mounted a public campaign against the treaty when the Senate took it up in 2012, fanning concerns among prominent conservatives like Rick Santorum and the Heritage Foundation that it could infringe on the rights of parents whose children have disabilities, threaten states’ rights and become a legal tool for pro-choice advocates pushing against restrictive abortion laws.
Proponents maintained that the treaty would have no effect on American law, but the detractors proved stronger: The treaty fell short of being ratified by five votes.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve the treaty Tuesday morning, but it’s not clear if it has enough votes to pass the full Senate.
Dole, who was injured while fighting in World War II and had been struggling with his health at the time of the vote, was on the Senate floor in a wheelchair when it failed.
“He’s quite a machine,” Dole said of Farris.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty Tuesday morning, largely along party lines. Two Republicans — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — voted with committee Democrats in favor of the treaty.
But McCain said there aren’t enough votes to ratify the treaty in the full Senate.
“I say that with great regret, but it’s the reality,” he said.
The treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was adopted in 2006 and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. It’s modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act: The goal is to help guarantee that people with disabilities can access education, jobs, health care and other opportunities afforded to countries’ mainstream populations.
Dole, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, more than 700 disabilities, veterans and business groups and a bipartisan group of senators are pushing for the treaty to be brought up for a vote again before the August recess. They know they’ve built a much bigger, more expansive coalition than Farris and his allies — but they don’t underestimate Farris’s devoted base and the sway home-school and pro-life groups have with many Senate Republicans.
“Not being at the table as a ratified country is missing an important opportunity,” said David Morrissey, executive director of the United States International Council on Disabilities. He said groups are “fired up” by the momentum that has built around the treaty.
But Farris has also been gearing up for a fight.
“We still think we have more than enough votes to kill it on the floor of the Senate,” Farris said. “We’ve got grass-roots activists who will stand up and speak on this issue.” He’s sent an action alert to the 170,000 home-school parents in his association to contact their senators and talk to their communities about the treaty.
“The question is: How many Republicans are going to lose their spines?” Farris said.
Farris has a knack for political organizing. A father of 10, he founded the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 to push for policies protecting home-school families, launching the modern-day home-schooling movement. He speaks proudly of being a co-chairman of the drafting committee of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the bipartisan 1993 law that became the basis for the recent Supreme Court decision in the case brought by the founders of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores against a provision of the Affordable Care Act. And his organization has been busy fighting the Common Core standards, even creating a documentary on the subject to help fuel the debate.