38 Republicans vote against ratification, but treaty could get another vote next year
In a vote on Dec. 4, 2012, the Senate failed to reach the necessary two-thirds margin required to approve the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty modeled on the United States" Americans with Disabilities Act.
Negotiated under President George W. Bush and signed by Obama in July 2009, the convention was presented to the Senate on May 17, 2012. But 38 Republicans ultimately voted against ratification, despite the presence in the chamber of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., still in a wheelchair following a recent hospital stay.
The final vote was 61-38. With 99 Senators present, ratification would have required 66 votes. Eight Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting the treaty, which has been signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126.
According to the Associated Press, the opposition involved concerns both substantive (claims of an erosion of U.S. sovereignty) and procedural (opposition to taking up a treaty during a lame-duck Congress).
"I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the treaty could lead to the state, rather than parents, determining what was in the best interest of disabled children in such areas as home schooling, and that language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive health care could lead to abortions, the AP reported.
Meanwhile, 36 GOP senators had signed a letter in September in which they refused to vote for any treaty during the lame-duck session.
Even though Obama has signed the convention and forwarded it to the Senate, and even though his party unanimously supported it in the Senate, our rules do not allow us to call this a Promise Kept until the treaty is ratified. However, since treaties, unlike bills and other legislative measures, remain available to the Senate from one Congress to the next, it could be considered again, and when the new Congress convenes, the Democrats will see their caucus increase by two members. For now, though, we rate this a Promise Broken.
Associated Press, "Republican opposition downs UN disability treaty," Dec. 4, 2012
Congressional Research Service, "Senate Consideration of Treaties," Oct. 26, 2012
U.S. Senate, roll call vote tally on the resolution of ratification, Dec. 4, 2012
Obama signs, submits treaty, but Senate hasn’t ratified it yet
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to make the United States "a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” and said he would "urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention expeditiously."
As we reported more than two years ago, Obama signed the convention in July 2009, but we rated it Stalled because it had not advanced to the Senate for ratification.
By now the convention has been presented to the Senate, but ratification still awaits.
The administration officially presented the convention to the Senate on May 17, 2012. Then, on July 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on it and voted to send it to the floor. Finally, on August 2, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the floor to endorse the convention.
"This convention is another step towards ensuring that all people with a disability, in any country, are treated with dignity and given the right to achieve to their full potential,” Reid said. "It has the support of veterans" and disability groups from around the nation. It has the strong backing of a bipartisan group of Senators as well as leading Republicans such as President George H.W. Bush and (former Sen. Robert) Dole. Just like passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, ratifying this Convention is, quite simply, the right thing to do.”
The next step is to secure the necessary 67 votes to ratify it.
Supporters have secured the backing of a number of Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jerry Moran of Kansas, to go along with leading Democratic backers such as Dick Durbin of Illinois, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Noting that well over 100 nations have already ratified the convention, Ted Kennedy Jr., the son of the late Democratic Senator, wrote in an op-ed that "U.S. sovereignty would remain fully protected. No changes to U.S. law are required by ratification because our domestic laws are so strong, but failure to ratify undermines our effectiveness as an advocate for global accessibility.”
The most immediate question is whether a bloc of conservative Republican Senators will pose an obstacle to consideration during the "lame duck” session between Election Day and the installation of the new Congress in January.
A group of 37 senators led by Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., wrote Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky saying they would block consideration of any treaties during a lame duck session. While the group's primary target was the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Lee also acted to block an effort by Durbin to approve the treaty by unanimous consent. "For various reasons we don't think any treaty should come up during the lame duck time period and we will continue to oppose any treaty passage,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, a group of conservative House members -- whose chamber has no official say in ratifying treaties -- wrote a letter to Reid and McConnell urging the Senate not to ratify the convention. They cited several concerns about the treaty: sovereignty infringement; too vague a definition of "disability”; the fear that an international commission of experts set up by the convention as a means to advance the case that abortion is "a human right”; and a perception that the convention could strip parents of "fundamental rights, including the ability to homeschool their child with disabilities if they believe it is in the best interests of their child.”
And in an editorial that opposed ratification, the Washington Times noted that "the Republican platform unveiled at the national convention several weeks ago rejected the pact along with other U.N. treaties whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear.” This could put pressure on Republicans to oppose it.
Obama has stuck to a large part of his promise -- he has signed the convention, and he forwarded it to the Senate for ratification. Since the convention has not yet been approved, however, it's not a Promise Kept by our standards. Until it's ratified, we'll rate it a Compromise.
United Nations, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessed Nov. 6, 2012
U.S. Senate, treaties received in the Senate, May 17, 2012
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hearing on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, July 12, 2012
Turtle Bay and Beyond, blog post, Aug. 1, 2012
Harry Reid, Senate floor speech, Aug. 2, 2012
Heritage Foundation, "Senate Conservatives Gather Enough Votes to Block Lame Duck Treaties," Sept. 21, 2012
The Hill, "GOP blocks vote on treaty recognizing rights for people with disabilities," Sept. 20, 2012
Washington Times, "Dangers of U.N. disabilities treaty" (editorial), Sept. 11, 2012
Ted Kennedy Jr., "U.N. disabilities convention deserves action" (op-ed), Oct. 12, 2012
Interview with David Morrissey, executive director of the United States International Council on Disabilities, Nov. 5, 2012
Convention is signed; but still waiting for ratification
In July 2009, we rated President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a Promise Kept. Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, signed the convention at U.N. headquarters in New York on July 30, 2009.
The convention, which you can read here, "asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities," according to a statement from the United Nations.
Obama also promised, however, that he would urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention "expeditiously." Under the Constitution, the executive branch can negotiate treaties, but it ultimately needs consent of the Senate.
We haven't heard much about the Convention since the United States became a signatory, so we wanted to see whether Obama made good on the second part of the promise.
We checked the Senate website, and found no record of the Convention having been approved or even submitted for consideration. We also went through President Obama's speeches and other White House statements. Obama called on the Senate to give the Convention "swift consideration and approval" on July 24, 2009, but we couldn't find evidence that he has done so since.
Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, told us that the document is currently in the midst of a clearing process by the Department of State, Department of Justice, and other relevant government agencies. Still, he added that he did not think that "it would take this long." From his understanding of the latest developments, the Convention will not be ready for submission to the Senate until after the upcoming November elections, he said.
Finally, William Freeman, president of the American Disability Association, told us that "knowing what we do know, there is no plausible manner in which the U.S. can comply with this treaty given the current other issues," such as the economy. He also added that the organization does not "expect the Senate to ratify this treaty until such time as it believes the U.S. can shoulder a minimally-compliant effort in regards to such a treaty." He said he regretted that he "cannot offer a more promising view of what we had thought was a promising new wind in the Obama government."
Obama promised to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention expeditiously. The United States has been an official signatory on the Convention since June 2009. Still, as far as we can tell, there has been no substantive movement on the second part of the promise except for internal discussions within federal agencies. Since advocates for the disabled don't expect action anytime soon, we're changing the rating to Stalled.
U.S. Senate, Treaties index page, accessed July 19, 2010
Project VoteSmart.org, Remarks by the President on 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 2010
Project VoteSmart.org, Remarks By The President On Signing Of U.N. Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities Proclamation, July 24, 2009
E-mail interview, William J. Freeman, American Disability Association, July 19, 2010
E-mail interview, Stewart Patrick, Council on Foreign Relations, July 27, 2010
E-mail interview, Andrew Imparato, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, July 27, 2010
Obama gets U.N. Convention on disabilities signed
On July 30, 2009, the United States become a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention, which you can
asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities," according to statement from the United Nations.
Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, signed the convention at U.N. headquarters in New York, bringing the total number of signatories to 141 as of that date.
We rate this Promise Kept.
UN applauds decision of United States to join landmark disability pact
, July 31, 2009
The White House, Remarks by the President on the Signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Proclamation , July 24, 2009