WASHINGTON—A controversial international disabilities treaty was defeated in the U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon, signaling a victory for conservative groups who rallied against it in recent weeks.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) needed 66 votes for ratification, but it only drew support from 61 senators. Thirty-eight senators voted against the agreement, which would have been the first of its kind to grant specific rights to a group of people. One senator did not vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) forced a vote on the CRPD in spite of the urgent fiscal issues facing Congress before the end of the year. In September, 36 Republican senators signed a letter to Reid pledging not to consider any treaty during the lame-duck session of Congress, but last week lawmakers coalesced when it became clear conservatives didn’t have the votes to stop the CRPD from coming to the floor. The coalition only strengthened for the final vote.
“It’s very good news for American sovereignty,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). Ruse told me the United States doesn’t need a treaty to assume leadership on human rights, and it “would have done nothing for Americans with disabilities.” He said conservatives owe “the brave senators who voted against” the CRPD a debt of gratitude.
Other groups working against the treaty include Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, the Family Research Council, the Home School Legal Defense Association, Heritage Action, Let Freedom Ring, Concerned Women for America, and Joni and Friends, which is a Christian outreach ministry to those with disabilities. The organizations all expressed concerns about the treaty’s impact on U.S. sovereignty, its promotion of abortion, and potential interference with homeschoolers.
Conservatives saw mixed results with the undecided senators they lobbied. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) voted against the treaty, but Sens. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) voted in favor of it.
Supporters of the CRPD, including Republicans Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former President George H.W. Bush, said it would extend the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act to U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
Ruse said proponents didn’t make the case that the treaty would help Americans, which is the only reason a treaty should be considered. The CRPD could be considered again in the next Congress, but Ruse doesn’t expect it to have the additional support it would need for ratification. He said the victory for conservatives could have position implications in the future: “The fact that this treaty lost means they will think twice before bringing up treaties such as the Women’s Rights Treaty and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which don’t have as much support [as the CRPD].”