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Senate Republicans block U.N. disabilities treaty

December 04, 2012|By Morgan Little | This post has been updated, as indicated below.
  • Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, right, is wheeled into the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington by his wife, Elizabeth Dole.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, right, is wheeled into the Senate… (CSPAN2 / Associated Press…)

The Senate rejected a United Nations treaty aimed at banning discrimination against individuals with disabilities Tuesday, falling five votes short of the two-thirds needed in a 61-38 vote.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities calls on participating countries to work to attain equality in access to education, healthcare and more, and was based largely on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It was negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration in 2006 and has since been signed by President Obama. So far, 126 countries have ratified the treaty.

The treaty, which passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before an attempt to ratify it through a voice vote fell flat in August, had a broad base of support, with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) standing next to each other Monday to implore senators to join their cause.

Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), backed by his wife, fellow former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), attended Tuesday’s vote to urge the treaty’s ratification. The former Senate majority leader looked on from his wheelchair as senators voted from their desks instead of approaching the room’s podium.

But many Republicans, who accounted for the 38 opposing votes, have been vocal in their opposition to the treaty, which they say infringes on U.S. sovereignty.

“I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor.

“I and many of my constituents who home-school or send their children to religious schools have justifiable doubt that a foreign body based in Geneva, Switzerland, should be deciding what is best for a child at home in Utah,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said, also speaking from the floor.

And former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has taken up opposition to the treaty as a new post-election cause, calling it an “egregious move to deny parents of children with disabilities the right to do what they think is in their child’s best interest.”

Kerry, who has been vocal in his support of the treaty, responded to Lee’s charge that, if ratifying the treaty does “nothing” and is non-binding, why bother voting for it?

“I said it does not change U.S. law; that is different from saying it doesn’t do anything. If it didn’t do anything I wouldn’t be here, nor would President Bush have signed it,” he said, contending that the U.N. measure would benefit Americans living and traveling abroad.

"This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate," Kerry said in a statement following the vote. "It needs to be a wakeup call about a broken institution that's letting down the American people. We need to fix this place."

McCain has previously stressed the importance of the treaty to disabled veterans abroad. “We need to step up and do the right thing for Bob Dole and the rest of our U.S. veterans,” McCain said Monday.

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[For the Record, 11:37 a.m. PST  Dec. 4: This post has been updated to include Kerry's post-vote remarks.]

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