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Why Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn Voted Against That U.N. Disabilities Treaty

This week the U.S. Senate voted down a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against disabled people–a population that includes roughly 1 in 5 Americans. It got 61 votes, but treaties need a two-thirds majority. This treaty is actually based on U.S. law, on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which you might remember was passed by a Republican president and later expanded by another Republican president.

It was clearly stated on the Senate floor that this treaty would not change any U.S. law. Rather, it would simply require other countries to adopt the same standards. The treaty even received bipartisan support, with Republican senators John McCain and Richard Lugar weighing in on the importance of a society that doesn’t discriminate against the disabled. Of course, both senators from Texas voted against the treaty.

Wondering why, I took to the internet to find out.

Sen. Hutchison, who recently has taken reasonable stands on everything from helping Afghan women to women’s health to immigration, released a statement on her website, explaining(-ish) her reasoning. The statement consists of four sentences, and three of them sure sound like she supports the treaty:

“I have always supported the principles embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act and I have worked to ensure we provide the very best care and assistance to our disabled veterans. The A.D.A. provides the highest standard of protections and considerations in the world to special needs populations in this country. Additional support is provided to disabled veterans through a variety of federal laws and resources. The Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities Treaty wrongly attempts to impose standards on other nations through the United Nations and might well have unintended consequences here at home.”

Okay, so she likes it — she thinks veterans need more protection, in fact — but she’s worried that the treaty might “impose” standards on other nations (presumably she’s talking about other nations that have signed the treaty), which is kind of what international agreements do. We agree not to do something. They agree not to do something. We write it up. We call it a treaty. Think of those pesky international agreements like conventions aimed at keeping terrorists from laundering money, the Geneva Convention, or anything involving maritime law.

Then she throws in that extra bit, about possible, unnamed “unintended consequences here at home.” Seems like the kind of thing you’d want to specify, since she clearly values the principles here. If she’s concerned about the questions raised by pro-lifers or homeschooling parents — concerns shared by Birthers, conspiracy theorists, and man-of-the-world Rick Santorum — she doesn’t make that clear. At all. (Probably because those are not great groups with which to be associated if you ever plan on winning another election.)

Sen. John Cornyn took a different route. He released no statement. His website makes no mention of the treaty vote at all, except to say Sen. Cornyn voted “Nay.” Same for his Facebook page. He did mention the vote on Twitter, though.

Someone asked him if he met former Sen. Bob Dole, who was on the Senate floor in his wheelchair to show support for the treaty.

Then, he waited for that great American to be wheeled out of the room and promptly voted against the treaty.