The 89-year-old former Senate majority leader, GOP presidential nominee and World War II veteran was escorted onto the floor in a wheelchair Tuesday by his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., to rally support for the United Nations disabilities treaty.
Last week, he was being treated at the Walter Reed National Medical Military Center. This week, he was trying to buttonhole colleagues to support an initiative to extend the rights granted to Americans under the Americans with Disabilities Act to citizens of the world.
Dole was gravely injured during World War II when his right arm was shattered in battle, and he has been a longtime advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, particularly veterans.
One by one, Senators of both parties approached the frail national leader, with former colleagues gently resting their hands on his shoulder or reaching out to his left hand, briefly clasping hands with the man who once presided over the chamber with a mix of wit, tactical guile and ruthlessness.
Then, one by one, after Dole was wheeled off the floor, most Republicans voted against the measure. Many members did not register their “nay” votes verbally, instead whispering their opposition directly to the clerk or gesturing their hands from their chairs.
Dole’s dramatic appearance did not secure the 13 Republican votes needed to ratify the treaty. In fact, only eight members of the caucus he once led joined Democrats to back the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which would have expanded rights to disabled people globally.
Several conservative groups, Glenn Beck and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., opposed the treaty because they said it would allow the U.N. to overreach and impose on the rights of member countries.
The text of the treaty, however, does not seem to support this assertion. Some of the Republicans who voted “aye” on the bill said as much.
“It would take a step toward making it easier for disabled Americans to live and work overseas, without impinging on U.S. sovereignty or Congress’ authority to determine our disability laws,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a rising star in the conservative ranks, said in a statement. “Veterans service groups are especially supportive of the treaty, which would help level the playing field for disabled veterans who are abroad.”
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., changed his vote from an “aye” to a “nay” after it was obvious the treaty would fall short of ratification. Cochran is up for re-election in 2014 and could face a primary challenge from his right.
Other Republicans who could face primary challenges from the right this cycle but who might have made the difference on the vote also voted against the treaty: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Alexander, in an emailed statement, would not say whether he supported the treaty, merely noting that the timing of the vote was bad.