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political notebook

Senate panel backs former executive to lead VA

WASHINGTON — The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday endorsed former Procter & Gamble chief executive Robert McDonald to be the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The panel’s unanimously vote came one day after a nomination hearing in which he faced no opposition.

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Senators said they are eager for McDonald to begin work at the beleaguered agency, which has been plagued by treatment delays and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.

McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati, has pledged to ‘‘transform’’ the VA and address a series of ‘‘systematic failures,’’ including patient access to health care, transparency, accountability, and integrity.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who chairs the Senate veterans panel, said the full Senate could vote on McDonald’s nomination as soon as this week.

Senate candidate Walsh says plagiarism was mistake

WASHINGTON — Democrats were thrilled when John Walsh of Montana was appointed to the Senate in February. A decorated veteran of the Iraq war and former adjutant general of his state’s National Guard, Walsh offered the Democratic Party something it frequently lacks: a seasoned military man.

On the campaign trail this year, Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point, saying his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.

But one of the highest-profile credentials of Walsh’s 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Walsh’s master’s degree from the Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on US Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

Walsh completed the paper, what the War College calls a “strategy research project,” to earn his degree in 2007, when he was 46. The sources of the material he presents as his own include academic papers, policy journal essays, and books that are almost all available online.

Most strikingly, each of the six recommendations Walsh laid out at the conclusion of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” is taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic.

In all, Walsh’s recommendations section runs to more than 800 words, nearly all of it taken verbatim from the Carnegie paper, without any footnote or reference to it.

The Democrat said Wednesday he was on medication and being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq when he wrote the paper. He said he also was dealing with the stress of a fellow veteran’s recent suicide.

Walsh said he made an unintentional mistake and did not intend to plagiarize.

In 2012, Walsh won his first bid for elected office to become Montana’s lieutenant governor. He was appointed to the Senate this year by Governor Steve Bullock. The vacancy arose after President Obama nominated Max Baucus to be ambassador to China, and Democrats hoped that installing Walsh in February would strengthen the party’s position to retain the seat.

Still, Walsh is trailing Representative Steve Daines, his Republican opponent, strategists on both sides say.

Dole returns to D.C. to urge OK on treaty for the disabled

WASHINGTON — Former senator Bob Dole returned on Wednesday to the institution he once led, his posture more slumped, his legs less sturdy, but his wits still sharp.

Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Dole, the former majority leader whose heroism in World War II left him disabled yet also became central to his political identity, implored the Senate to act swiftly to ratify a treaty that would provide greater protections for disabled people all over the world.

“As a Republican, I don’t want to see a headline saying ‘Republicans vote against disabled Americans and disabled veterans,’ ” Dole told a room full of women and men from the armed services — many of them, like him, in wheelchairs.

This is the second time that Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, who turned 91 on Tuesday, has come to Capitol Hill to plead with fellow Republicans not to reject the treaty, called the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

They did so in late 2013, when 38 Republicans voted against it, claiming that the treaty would give too much power to the United Nations at the expense of state laws governing accommodations and protections for the disabled.

Advocates for people who home-school their children, a group that has clout among many conservatives, have lobbied against the treaty on the grounds that it would take decision-making power away from parents of the disabled.

Dole and senators from both parties who spoke in defense of the treaty on Wednesday said those concerns were unfounded because the treaty is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark law that provided civil rights protections to people with disabilities.

“There have been a lot of myths about this treaty,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire. “Let’s just sum this up very clearly. It’s the right thing to do.”

Senate OK’s $11b temporary fix on highway funding

WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed Wednesday on an $11 billion measure to temporarily fix a multibillion-dollar shortfall in federal highway and transit programs, setting up a vote next week on several alternatives.

But senators will likely end up simply adopting a measure that passed the GOP-controlled House by a sweeping bipartisan vote last week, which would send it directly to President Obama for his signature. The House bill would provide enough money to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through May 2015.

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