Senate Republicans singlehandedly blocked a treaty Tuesday designed to strengthen the rights of disabled people worldwide.
In a 61 to 38 vote that fell short of the super-majority needed to pass, the Senate voted not to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, the CRPD would have thrown U.S. support behind promoting nondiscrimination and accessibility measures that are up to U.S. standards, like sidewalk ramps and handicapped accessible restrooms. Republicans made up all 38 opposing votes.
Senate Republicans rejected the convention despite passionate appeals from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and former Republican Majority Leader and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who appeared on the Senate floor in a wheelchair Tuesday less than a week after being released from the hospital. The convention failed despite requiring no new legislation and no changes to existing U.S. law. Senators McCain, Kerry and Dole are all decorated military veterans; McCain was disabled in a POW camp in Vietnam and Dole sustained a permanent injury in WWII.
Kerry called it “one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate” in a statement after the vote. “Today dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled and that’s unacceptable,” Kerry said.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) led the charge against the convention along with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.). Lee wrote in a statement, "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."
One hundred and twenty-five countries have ratified the convention, which establishes a committee to monitor countries' progress toward non-discrimination and accessibility. That committee is unable to make laws; instead it issues recommendations to countries.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Republican opposition "had no basis in fact." "The treaty does not change United States Law," Reid said. "It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues. The United States is seen as a leader around the world. Today, we had a chance to lead, and we failed because a small group of Republican senators fear the Tea Party more than they care about equality for people with disabilities."