Former United States' Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole returned to the Senate floor yesterday. A World War II vet, the 89-year-old 1996 Presidential candidate was confined to a wheelchair, his body weakened by age, injuries, and illness. He was there with his wife Elizabeth, also a former United States Senator, to make an impassioned plea for the Senate to ratify the United Nations' treaty on the rights of the disabled.
The treaty was modeled after the landmark Civil Rights legislation, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. That act had been passed by then-President George H.W. Bush. This treaty had been negotiated in part by former President George W. Bush and had been signed by current President Barack Obama in 2009, a sign that the United States may have been ready to ratify the treaty.
The vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed, 61-38.
Eight Republicans, including Scott Brown from Massachusetts and John McCain from Arizona, joined the Democrats in their attempt to ratify the treaty.
The treaty's fall was a win for much of the hard right in American politics, like former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and political pundit Glenn Beck. Just last week, Santorum hosted a news conference taking issue with the wording of some of the treaty, such as the section about reproductive rights. Many on the far right associate the term "reproductive rights" with abortion. Santorum also said that he believed that the treaty would violate the sovereignty of American parents.
However, other more moderate Republicans helped to defeat the treaty. In fact, it was John McCain's fellow senator from Arizona who helped fight it.
"Just as with many treaties before this one, the CRPD would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries like the United States that have actually made great strides in this area," John Kyl said in a floor speech.
He also said that the treaty did not have any teeth to ensure that countries would actually follow through on the measures outlined by treaty.
Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement, "This is one of the saddest days I've seen in almost 28 years in the Senate, and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that's letting down the American people."
The White House said that it was disappointed and hoped that Congress would reconsider the treaty in the next Congress. They noted that the treaty was an attempt to give Americans living abroad the same access that they were afforded in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he intended to bring the treaty back next term.
"I could not sleep tonight if I were one of the senators who did not vote for this today," Steve Rothstein, the President of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, said to the Boston Globe. The school operates in 67 countries.
Rothstein said that about 4.5 million children are unable to go to school worldwide because they are blind.