Santorum, conservatives target UN treaty on disabilities

Updated
 
George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990.
George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990.
Official White House photo

The far-right’s reflexive opposition to anything related to the United Nations isn’t exactly a new development, but the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities seems entirely uncontroversial. It enjoys bipartisan support, with Republicans like Dick Lugar and John McCain arguing it would simply help extend our Americans with Disabilities Act to people around the world.

As Dana Milbank noted yesterday, however, some prominent conservatives still hope to block ratification.

[Former Sen. Rick Santorum], joined by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), declared his wish that the Senate reject the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities – a human rights treaty negotiated during George W. Bush’s administration and ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The former presidential candidate pronounced his “grave concerns” about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. “This is a direct assault on us,” he declared at a news conference.

Lee, a tea party favorite, said he, too, has “grave concerns” about the document’s threat to American sovereignty. “I will do everything I can to block its ratification, and I have secured the signatures of 36 Republican senators, all of whom have joined with me saying that we will oppose any ratification of any treaty during this lame-duck session.”

Ratification on all treaties requires a minimum of 67 votes, and though there appeared to be progress on securing the supermajority over the summer, the lobbying campaign on the right has grown fierce.

Even by contemporary standards, there’s just no reason for this. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty with bipartisan support in July, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”

In other words, we don’t actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty – and then wait for other signatories around the world to catch up to the United States’ laws.

But Santorum & Co. don’t seem to care. Milbank added:

Their concerns, rather, came from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories. The opponents argue that the treaty, like most everything the United Nations does, undermines American sovereignty – in this case via a plot to keep Americans from home-schooling their children and making other decisions about their well-being.

The treaty does no such thing; if it had such sinister aims, it surely wouldn’t have the support of disabilities and veterans groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican senators such as John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), and conservative legal minds such as Boyden Gray and Dick Thornburgh.

If Lee is right, and the right has locked up 36 senators to oppose the treaty, it will die in this Congress, and proponents will have to start from scratch in the new Congress.

Disabilities and United Nations

Santorum, conservatives target UN treaty on disabilities

Updated