A day after Senate Republicans blocked a treaty to advance the rights of people with disabilities, the pact's champions blasted the move as "an amazing slap in the face" to the disabled community.
“Fear triumphed and politics triumphed, not the legitimate concerns of Americans with disabilities who want to travel abroad,” Sen. John Kerry told msnbc's Andrea Mitchell Wednesday.
Bruce Darling, an organizer with the disability rights group ADAPT, echoed that view. “We were hopeful that with the election, the Republican Party would have reached out the disability constituency," he told msnbc.com. "Instead of broadening their base, they simply pandered to the extremist part of their party and it was a slap in the face for our constituency."
At issue was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which allows for the international adaptation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark legislation championed by President George H.W. Bush, ensuring equal rights and protections for people with disabilities. The treaty, which encourages countries to guard against discrimination and implement accessibility measures like handicapped restrooms and ramps, would have required no changes to U.S. law. Twenty-one major veterans groups had lobbied for the treaty, including many that pushed for the milestone Americans with Disabilities Act 22 years ago.
Wounded war veterans and disabled Americans had gathered just outside the Senate chamber expecting to celebrate a win, Foreign Policy magazine reported. "That was one of most shameful moments I've witnessed during my time in Washington," one longtime senior Senate aide told the magazine. "I thought it was utterly appalling."
Republicans charged that the pact threatens American sovereignty, and said it could allow for government interference with home-schooled children.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a Tea Party favorite, invoked the specter of international law—long a bete noir of the far right. The vote against the treaty, he said, "halted our possible descent down the rabbit hole of international ‘entitlement rights’—which could have serious consequences for domestic law."
Former senator Rick Santorum, whose daughter suffers from Edwards syndrome, made a similar case. "This treaty would have given the U.N. oversight of the healthcare and education choices parents with special needs kids make," said Santorum, a Christian conservative. "Had it passed, CRPD would have become the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, and would have trumped state laws, and could have been used as precedent by state and federal judges."
In fact, the treaty would only establish an international committee that makes recommendations—not laws—to national governments after monitoring progress toward achieving nondiscrimination and mobility measures. “We'll expose the phoniness of these arguments that have been made,” Kerry told Mitchell, vowing to try for ratification again.
In all, 38 Republicans voted against the treaty, while eight voted for it, along with every Democrat. That left it with 61 votes, 6 short of the 66 needed for ratification that day.
In rejecting the treaty, Republicans ignored the pleas of disabled veterans John McCain and Bob Dole, who appeared in the Senate just days after getting out of the hospital, to push for the pact.
“One of the things that I thought was most sad about yesterday was here's a veteran of World War II, grievously wounded in that war, who spent a lifetime proving to Americans that injuries didn't need to stop you from living a completely fulfilled and productive life, who had to fight like crazy to come back from those wounds,” Kerry told Mitchell of Dole’s return to the Senate. “And he's on the floor, this man who defended American sovereignty, and yet people were there suggesting somehow that he was there less than to defend America's sovereignty with this vote. To me, that was just such an amazing slap in the face and a contradiction.”