Senator Bob Dole, recently released from the hospital, sat off in a corner of the senate floor in his wheelchair on Tuesday as senators from both parties debated on the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention, signed by 155 countries and ratified by 126, would seek to ban discrimination against people with disabilities, and is meant to encourage other nations to enact legislation similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But even the presence of Sen. Dole, and an apparently very passionate speech from Sen. John Kerry, was not enough to convince the Republicans in the chamber. After many of them greeted Dole, who was instrumental in the passage of the ADA 22 years ago, his wife Elizabeth wheeled him out of the hall, and the convention was voted down 61-38 against, led by all but 8 Republicans. Many of those senators expressed concern that this treaty would “infringe on American sovereignty,” allowing UN bureaucrats to make decisions about disabled children in the US, giving them power over state laws. Despite Sen Kerry’s assurances, he of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that this treaty would have no bearing on US law, most of the Republican senators voted against – including Rick Santorum (father of a developmentally disabled child).
Said Harry Ried, senate majority leader, (quoted in the New York Times) “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.”
As an article in The Baltimore Sun put it, “This isn’t controversial stuff on most of the planet, nor in most of this country. Only in the minds of extremists in one political party, who are loath to ever support the United Nations, let alone anything endorsed by President Barack Obama and the Democrats, does a call for human rights motivate such opposition.” The fact that 126 other nations, including China, Syria and Iran, have ratified this treaty would give a reasonable person cause to doubt the implied threat to sovereignty.
But, despite whatever mandate might have been implied by the recent elections, it is business as usual in the Senate. Paul Ryan spoke about the Republican party’s needs to “speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American,” but he apparently didn’t mean any of the disabled Americans, most of who are likely in the now famous 47%.
A shameful day on Capitol Hill. Sorry, Bob.