Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) made a rare Senate appearance this morning, sitting in a wheelchair just off the floor so that members would have to see him as they entered the chamber. Why? Because they were poised to vote on ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Dole hoped to send a message.
It didn’t work. The Senate killed the treaty this afternoon, with a final vote of 61 to 38, which seems like a lopsided majority, but which fell short of the two-thirds necessary for ratification. Eight Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in support of the treaty, but the clear majority of the Senate GOP voted to block it.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who’ve forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
But most Senate Republicans saw it as a threat to American “sovereignty,” even though the treaty wouldn’t have required the United States to change its laws. 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 wouldn’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’ Americans with Disabilities Act.
The treaty was endorsed by Dole, John McCain, and Dick Lugar, among other prominent Republican figures, but it didn’t matter. The GOP’s right-wing base, led in part by Rick Santorum, raised hysterical fears about the treaty, and most Senate Republicans took their cues from the party’s activists, not the party’s elder statesmen.
Update: Here’s the roll call on the vote. All 38 opponents were Republicans.