Disability community shocked and hurt by last-minute GOP treaty reversal

Disability community shocked and hurt by last-minute GOP treaty reversal

The organizations that advocate for disabled people and veterans were mortified when a number of Republican senators changed their stance at the last minute and abandoned their commitments to support a global treaty to expand the rights of people with disabilities, which failed in the Senate Tuesday.

After months of diligent lobbying, these organizations were confident they had the support of several GOP senators who ended up opposing ratification of the U.N. Treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But GOP offices were flooded in the days leading up to the vote by calls from supporters of several rightwing groups, including Rick Santorum‘s Patriot PAC, the Family Research Council, and the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation.

In the end, the Senate voted 61-38, five votes short of the 66 needed to ratify the treaty.

David Morrissey, the executive director of the United States International Council on Disabilities, told The Cable in an interview that his group and many others had been assured by numerous GOP senators that they would vote in favor of ratification, but then disabilities groups were given no warning when those senators reversed themselves and voted "no."

Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts were the most shocking "no" votes because both had personally committed to support the treaty to former Sen. Bob Dole, who hails from their home state of Kansas and who appeared in the Senate chamber Tuesday in his wheelchair. Moran had announced his support for the treaty back in May, in a public event along with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Barrasso (R-WY), both of whom fulfilled their pledge to vote "yes."

"Moran was the biggest disappointment to us in this campaign, both because of his commitment and his own relationship with Senator Dole," Morrissey said. "The no vote of both Kansas senators, considering how strong the Kansas disability community is, to make that choice, is very disappointing."

The staffs of Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) had also signaled to disability groups that those senators would support the treaty. Both of them ultimately voted no. Disability organizations had hoped Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would have been helpful, both because of his relationship with McCain and because of the large veterans community in South Carolina, but he voted "no" as well.

Several GOP senators actually RSVPd for a reception held at the Capitol Tuesday morning to honor Dole, a disabled veteran himself, for his decades of work on behalf of the disabled community. Roberts, along with Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all planned to attend the ceremony honoring Dole, but didn’t show up and then voted "no" on the treaty.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) actually did show up to the Dole event, but then voted against the treaty anyway.

"Coats attended and then turned around and voted no," Morrissey said. "And he heard the voices of numerous colleagues in the Senate who were going to support this, who really gave wonderful remarks."

The scene both inside and just outside the Senate chamber Tuesday before and during the vote was heart-wrenching, several observers said. Wounded war veterans and other disabled people filled the gallery above the floor and the hallways outside the chamber, expecting to celebrate months of effort, only to have those hopes shattered as the roll call vote was read aloud.

"That was one of most shameful moments I’ve witnessed during my time in Washington," one longtime senior Senate aide said. "I thought it was utterly appalling."

"The reaction was one of emotional hurt. There was weeping in the gallery," said Morrissey, who added that disability groups will remember the GOP senators who torpedoed the treaty ratification effort and groups have labeled the 38 the "wall of shame."

There was also resolve by community leaders to try again next year, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to do so, although the chances of GOP senators changing their votes to support the treaty next time around are unclear.

Morrissey said the last-minute GOP abandonment of support for the treaty was a direct result of the rightwing groups’ effort to stir up angst in various sectors, including homeschoolers, the pro-life community, and the community of parents with disabled children.

"It’s not about the disability treaty alone. The opponents put together this wave of opposition by scaring voters in different communities," he said. "The ongoing use of misinformation to scare and create an angry mob is frightening."