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.