The U.N. and the Senate: 38 Republicans reject Disabilities Treaty

Senator Kerry blames fear and politics for the failure of the treaty’s ratification. Photo: R.I. Rep. Jim Langevin (D.), a quadriplegic, joined McCain and Kerry to push for Senate ratification AP

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2012 — What were the Republicans thinking? Or were they even thinking? People everywhere are shaking their heads at the vote in the Senate on Tuesday, December 4, that rejected the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities by 61 to 38.

It fell five votes short of the two-thirds need for passage or 66 votes. It was a shameful moment for the Senate.

What Happened on December 4?

If only five of the 38 Republican Senators had voted for the treaty, the U.S. would have joined 126 other nations, which have already signed the treaty. The U.N. treaty was actually based on our own Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). We had set the gold standard for the world with our civil rights law, prohibiting discrimination based on a disability. America is the reason there is even a U.N. treaty to make it worldwide. But the Senate of today is a very different body than it once was.

McCain and Kerry worked closely to get the treaty ratified AP

Still it was hard to believe that 38 Republican senators chose to ignore the pleas of one of their own, Arizona Senator John McCain, himself a disabled vet. Not only did they ignore McCain.

They chose to ignore their old Senate colleague, 89-year-old former Republican Senator and Majority Leader Bob Dole, another disabled veteran, who was wheeled onto floor of the chamber by his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole.

They chose to ignore the disabled people, civilian and veterans, who sat in the gallery above the chamber. They chose to ignore 54 million disabled Americans.

So why did these Republicans do it? What drove 38 of them to march in lock step and once again show the American people that the GOP is the party of No?

Home schooling. Yep, you read right, home schooling.

They bought the bogus argument that to vote for the U.N. treaty would mean that the U.N. committee overseeing the ban on discrimination against the disabled, including children, could violate the rights of American parents who decide to home school their disabled children.

Rick Santorum Stood Against the Treaty

And who was the mastermind behind this so-called logic? None other than failed presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. As he said in another of his moments of hyperbole: “This is a direct assault on us.”

He wrote in his column for the Daily Beast: “Another example of this U.N. overreach is the treaty’s ‘best interests of the child’ standard, which states in full: ‘In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.’

“…This would put the state, under the direction of the U.N., in the position of determining what is in the best interest of a disabled child, replacing the parents who have that power under current law.”

And leading the charge on the floor of the Senate was the Tea Party’s favorite senator, Mike Lee of Utah, who said, “Instead, the Senate rightfully rejected a treaty that could threaten the rights of parents to determine the best education, treatment, and care for their disabled children.”

Sen. Bob Dole, far right, came to the Senate in his wheelchair. AP

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who led the floor fight for the ratification of the treaty, had noted that not only Dole and McCain had supported the passage, but so did WWII veteran, former President George H. W. Bush. Kerry added, “This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate and it needs to be a wakeup call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.

“We need to fix this place because what happens and doesn’t happen here affects millions of lives. Today the dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled and that’s unacceptable. This treaty was supported by every veterans group in America and Bob Dole made an inspiring and courageous personal journey back to the Senate to fight for it. It had bipartisan support, and it had the facts on its side, and yet for one ugly vote, none of that seemed to matter.”

A handful of Republican senators voted for the measure, notably Senator John McCain of Arizona, in opposition to the other Arizona Republican, Senator Jon Kyl. The others who supported it were Senators Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (Maine.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

When Sen. Kerry was asked on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” why so many Republicans voted against the bill, he said, “Fear triumphed. Politics triumphed. Not one American law is affected by this treaty. No one gets any new rights. No one would have access to an American court. There is nothing to fear in the treaty.”

But Kerry vows to fight again another day, saying he will bring it back to the Senate, probably next fall.

Meanwhile 54 million Americans with disabilities are left to wonder why their Republican senators turned their backs on them. And one can only imagine what Sen. Dole must have thought as he saw old colleagues like Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) or Richard Shelby (Ala.) greet him warmly and then vote against what he stood for. Must have felt like a slap in the face.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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