Foreign Relations Committee approves disability treaty

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved a United Nations treaty to protect people with disabilities from discrimination.

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The committee approved the treaty on a 12-6 vote. All Democrats approved along with Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.). 

The treaty has gained wide controversy in the past and Secretary of State John Kerry has described the rejection of the treaty in 2012 by the full Senate, while he headed the committee, as one of the saddest days of his public life. 

"When we lead, the world follows, and only the United States can show the way in raising worldwide accessibility to the American standard," committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement after the vote. 

"The Disabilities Treaty is essential to improving the lives of over 1 billion people around the globe with disabilities, as well as the 58 million Americans with disabilities right here at home, including 5.5 million disabled American veterans."

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been signed by 146 countries. Supporters say many of its provisions are modeled after the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and would not be binding. Kerry, in the past, has said approval would allow the United States to serve on an advisory committee to advocate for disabled U.S. persons abroad. 

But critics have claimed the treaty could override some U.S. laws and caution against portions of the text that they assert could affect abortion and homeschooling in the United States. 

It was initially negotiated by former President George W. Bush and signed by President Obama during his first term.

Former GOP senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), a major critic of the proposal, urged his followers on Twitter earlier in the day to call their senators and "Ask for NO on this dangerous UN Treaty."

The treaty fell short of the two-thirds needed for passage in the full Senate in 2012, even with the help of eight Republicans who voted for the bill. Five of those Republicans remain in the Senate, including McCain and Barrasso. 

Former senator and GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, who was disabled during World War II, has been a major advocate for the treaty's approval. He was present in the Senate when it failed in the full chamber in 2012.

--This report was updated at 2:53 p.m.