UN disabilities treaty expected to fail in Senate amid GOP opposition

Senate Republicans are expected on Tuesday to reject an international treaty affirming the rights of people with disabilities.

Democrats made a last-ditch effort to secure the two-thirds vote for ratification of the United Nations convention, but appeared to be well short of that mark ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled vote.

Conservative activists have come out in force against the treaty, warning it would pave the way for government interference in homeschooling. Supporters of the pact say it would merely extend the rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act to all nations. 

“This is about Americans and raising the standard of how we treat Americans around the world,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryNorth Korea is moved by Pompeo diplomacy, but Dems dig in deeper Ex-Obama official Marie Harf, Guy Benson to co-host Fox News Radio show Five things to know about Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska MORE (D-Mass.).

Democrats would need only 66 senators to ratify the treaty, due to the absence of Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.), but Republican votes have been hard to come by. 

Thirty-six Republican senators signed a letter to Senate leaders in September promising to oppose any treaty brought to a vote during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Democrats had hoped some of those senators would have a change of heart after the election, and were able to peel off two GOP votes last week when Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate Finance leaders call on Commerce to improve the tariff-exclusion process GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor House passes series of bills to improve IRS MORE (Utah) and Scott Brown (Mass.) voted to proceed to the disabilities treaty on the Senate floor. 

The 61-36 vote to proceed would not have been enough for ratification, however, and three Republicans who abstained from the September letter — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (Ky.) and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting Overnight Energy: Former Pruitt aide alleges more wasteful spending, retaliation | Senate confirms EPA No. 2 | Zinke backs off big park fee increases Senate approves Trump’s pick for No. 2 at EPA MORE (Okla.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Finance: Senate repeals auto-lending guidance, shattering precedent with vote | House passes IRS reform bills | Senate GOP fears tax cut sequel Senate repeals auto-loan guidance in precedent-shattering vote Overnight Finance: Officials downplay Trump comments on trade, China currency | Fed official defends moves on bank regulation | Russia sanctions snag pits Kudlow against Haley | IRS deals with Tax Day tech trouble MORE (Kan.) — voted no, further dimming Democratic hopes. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA Key senators warn Trump of North Korea effort on Syria Rep. Jordan: Action in Syria ‘should be debated in Congress’ MORE (R-Utah), who spearheaded the September letter, is working alongside former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association to ensure the treaty’s defeat. They warn it would create a U.N. committee that could impinge on U.S. sovereignty.

“Our concerns with this convention have nothing to do with any lack of concern for the rights of persons with disabilities,” Lee said last week. “They have everything to do with protecting U.S. sovereignty, protecting the interests of parents in the United States and the interests of families.”

Opponents of the treaty have also criticized it for not excluding abortion rights.

Democrats say the treaty stays neutral on abortion by calling on governments to offer people with disabilities the full range of family-planning services provided under domestic law. 

Conservative groups pressed for the addition of language that would specify that the treaty does not create any new abortion rights, arguing that abortion is often a form of discrimination against people with disabilities.

All nine Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted for language excluding abortion rights when the treaty came before the panel in July. The amendment failed, and only three Republicans — Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMajor GOP donor Friess to enter Wyoming governor race EPA to conduct 'full review' of information requests for Pruitt records Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (Wyo.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonNow is the time to modernize the OTC monograph system Overnight Health Care: GOP pushes stiff work requirements for food stamps | Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss to opioids | Republicans refuse to back vulnerable Dem's opioids bill | Dems offer new public option plan The Hill's Morning Report: Haley clashes with White House MORE (Ga.) — joined the 10 Democrats on the panel voting for passage.

Democrats were trying Monday to convince on-the-fence Republicans that a “no” vote on the Senate floor would be politically painful.

The treaty has the support of a handful of Republican senators — including former presidential candidate John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes MORE (Ariz.) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Barrasso — as well as many advocates for people with disabilities and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) is expected to champion the treaty in a return to the Senate floor Tuesday after denouncing the “scare tactics” used by its opponents in a letter distributed Monday.

Democrats have also roped in former Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh, who was President George H. W. Bush’s point man on the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.

The treaty, Thornburgh said Monday, would cede “no authority to the U.N. over the U.S. or any of its citizens. None. Zero.” He said the U.N. committee’s recommendations would be purely advisory and could not require the United States to change its laws or pass new ones and would not create any legal rights in state or federal courts.

The treaty was negotiated under President George W. Bush and was signed by President Obama in July 2009. It has been signed by at least 153 countries in addition to the United States.

Lee in his letter said the lame-duck session would not be an “appropriate” time for passage of treaties that will become the “supreme law of the land.”

Kerry countered by saying the Senate has passed treaties 19 times during lame-duck sessions. He said the sitting senators, who “did all the work” sitting in on the committee’s markup of the treaty this summer, should be the ones to vote on it.

President Obama, in a statement marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Monday, said U.S. leadership on a key human-rights issue is at stake.

“Ratifying the convention in the Senate would reaffirm America’s position as the global leader on disability rights,” Obama said, “and better position us to encourage progress toward inclusion, equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities worldwide.”