The U.S. Senate rejected ratification of a treaty intended to grant equal access for the disabled to employment, health care, education, physical accommodations and legal protection under international law.
The 61-38 vote fell short of the two-thirds needed to consent to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first treaty of its kind. A majority of Republicans voted against ratification.
Supporters including former Republican presidential candidate and Majority Leader Bob Dole had tried to convince senators that the treaty would prod other countries to meet U.S. standards on disabled rights and wouldn’t, as some Republican critics argued, force this country to abide by international standards.
“This treaty is not about changing America, it is about America changing the world,” said Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Dole, a World War II combat veteran who lost use of his right arm, went to the Senate floor in a wheelchair as the Senate concluded debate and voted on the treaty.
The Kansas Republican was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth Dole, a former Republican senator from North Carolina. Long a champion of the rights of people with disabilities, Dole is a special counsel to the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP in Washington.
Dole’s support didn’t sway some senators who argued that the treaty could undermine parental rights and U.S. sovereignty.
“If we were to ratify this treaty we can be sure that a lot of international hypocrites will soon demand the United States do this or that all the while their countries will have been in full violation of virtually every provision of the treaty,” said Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican. “This treaty is unnecessary in fact and dangerous to our sovereignty.”
The resolution was opposed by the advocacy groups Heritage Action for America and the Home School Legal Defense Association. Before the election, 36 Republicans had signed a letter opposing any action on treaties during the lame-duck session.
At least 119 countries have ratified or acceded to the treaty, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Military groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Vietnam Veterans of America wrote in favor of the bill, said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who spoke in favor of the treaty.
“That’s what this is all about, American leadership,” said McCain, a Vietnam veteran.
The treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006 and signed by the U.S. in June 2009, wouldn’t add costs to the federal government or require any changes to federal law, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
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