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Senate rebuffs Dole’s appeal for passage of UN disability treaty


This news story was published on December 5, 2012.
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By Lindsay Wise and Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star –

WASHINGTON —Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, his 89-year old body now weakened by age, illness and war injuries, sat quietly in a wheelchair on the Senate floor Tuesday, watching the debate over a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

He may have recalled an earlier time.

More than 43 years ago, Dole delivered his first speech on the very same floor — on disability rights. Later, as one of the most powerful members of the Senate, he pushed through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a measure designed to protect citizens grappling with accidents and disease.

Now he had come the Senate floor, perhaps for the last time, to persuade lawmakers to adopt a treaty supporters said would extend disability protections around the world.

“Don’t let Sen. Bob Dole down,” Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said, raising his voice, pointing at his former colleague. “Most importantly, don’t let the Senate and the country down. Approve this treaty.”

It wasn’t enough.

Only 61 senators voted for the treaty, officially known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-six votes were needed for passage.

Among the 38 members voting against the measure: The two senators from Kansas, Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. Both have known Dole for years.

Some Republicans had mounted an intense campaign against the treaty, arguing it surrendered American sovereignty to the U.N.

“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.

But other Republicans — including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who like Dole suffers from a war-related disability — pushed for approval, reading a statement from Dole into the record.

“That’s what this is all about,” McCain said. “American leadership.”

Dole was accompanied to the floor by his wife Elizabeth, herself a former senator. Senate rules allow former members access to the floor, although it is rarely used.

Several members approached Dole during his brief visit, shaking his hands and chatting — before some of them cast votes against the treaty.

The 1996 presidential candidate sat to the left of the Senate’s presiding officer and didn’t speak. He left before the vote was finished, and didn’t talk with reporters outside the chamber.

The treaty was negotiated by President George W. Bush and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

More than 150 nations have also signed the treaty, designed to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity,” according to the document.

Advocates for the disabled said they would try again next year, and majority leader Sen. Harry Reid said he intends to bring it back.

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