The Senate Tuesday fell short of the two-thirds vote required to ratify a United Nations treaty aimed at securing rights for disabled people around the world, when the vast majority of Republican senators voted against the treaty. The final vote was 61-38 vote. All the nay votes were Republican.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities essentially makes the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act a non-binding international standard. It requires no change to U.S. law.
Originally signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 and re-signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 shortly after he took office, the treaty has been championed by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), the one-time GOP presidential nominee who suffered a disability while serving in the Army in World War II. Dole was on the Senate floor Tuesday ahead of the ratification vote, in a wheelchair, accompanied by his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).
Longtime Republicans like Sens. John McCain (AZ), Dick Lugar (IN) and John Barrasso (WY) voted for the treaty. But that didn’t stop the party’s more conservative members from warning that it would violate U.S. sovereignty and dictate to parents with home-schooled children.
“I do oppose the CRPD because I think it does impinge upon our sovereignty,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “Unelected bureaucratic bodies would implement the treaty and pass so-called recommendations that would be forced upon the United Nations and the U.S. … This would especially affect those parents who home-school their children. … The unelected foreign bureaucrats, not parents, would decide what is in the best interests of the disabled child, even in the home.”
Inhofe was joined by Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Lee (UT), Marco Rubio (FL) and most of the party’s leadership in quashing the treaty. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), who is up for re-election in 2014, voted against it.
“I and many of my constituents who home-school or send their children to religious schools,” said Lee, “have justifiable doubt that a foreign body based in Geneva, Switzerland, should be deciding what is best for a child at home in Utah.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a proponent of the treaty, was flummoxed by the opposition.
“I’ve heard some of my Republican colleagues talk many times about making the rest of the world more like America,” he said. “I hate to think that now, when we have an opportunity to do that, they will retreat from the core conviction and oppose a treaty modeled on the United States example which has no recourse in American courts and no effect on American law.”
The conservative Republicans warned that the international community is a scary place.
“I have been an advocate of human rights around the world,” Inhofe said. “However, I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.