Transcript: Sen. John Kerry’s floor remarks in support of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of statements by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in support of ratifying the U.N. Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the Senate floor on Dec. 4, 2012:

Mr. President, let me just say to the Senator from Arizona before he leaves, the Senator and I have engaged on these issues for some years now, and we have disagreed respectfully and in a friendly way.
   
I would say to him, very respectfully, that there is no contradiction in the position of the proponents of this bill. While I understand what he said about China, the fact is that because China has signed up–and Russia and other countries–if we were a party to this and at the table discussing it, we would have greater leverage in order to be able to advance the rights of persons in China and elsewhere.
   
Now, don’t take that from me, I would say to the Senator from Arizona. Guongcheng Chen is the blind activist for civil rights in China who has sought refuge in America for a brief period of time. His family has suffered in China, and he has written a letter to us. He says:

   Dear Senators,
   I am writing you to personally ask for your support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As you know, my work on civil rights began with trying to ensure that people with disabilities in my home country of China were afforded the same rights as everyone else. The CRPD is making this idea real in significant ways around the world today.

He goes on to say:

   I am hopeful that you will support ratification and allow others to benefit from these triumphs.

And he is referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the other things we have done.
   
I ask unanimous consent that this document of organizations supporting the treaty be placed in the Record.
   
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
   
The Coalition for United States Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:
   
President Herbert Walker Bush; The Honorable Bob Dole; The Honorable Tony Coelho;; The Honorable Dick Thornburgh; The Honorable Steve Bartlett; Ambassador Boyden Gray; Mayer-Brown LLP: Carolyn Osolinik & Tim Keeler; Ted Kennedy Jr.; Howard Berman; John Wodatch; Dan Brezinski; Ray Kelley; Tom Zampiri; Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago: Marca Bristo; Alston & Bird LLP: Jennifer Butler; Bob Kettlewell; Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; Glover Park Group; Eva Szeli Robert Dinerstein Hadar Harris Janet Lord Arlene Kantor Michael Stein; National Council on Disability; National Council on Independent Living; National Disability Leadership Alliance; United Spinal Association and 21 Veteran organizations; United States Chamber of Commerce; United States International Council on Disabilities: David Morrissey, Esme Grant, Susie Richard, Ellis Ballard, and Andrea Shettle.
   
Ability Chicago; Access Alaska Inc.; Access Living; Access, Inc.; ACCSES; Actionplay; ADAPT Delaware; Air Force Sergeants Association; Air Force Women Officers Associated; Alliance Center for Independence; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Advocating 4 Kids LLC; American Academy of Pediatrics; American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry; American Association on Health and Disability; American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; American Association of People with Disabilities; American Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation; American Civil Liberties Union; American Council of the Blind.
   
American Counseling Association; American Dance Therapy Association; Anti-Defamation League; American Diabetes Association; American Foundation for the Blind; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; American GI Forum; American Group Psychotherapy Association; American Mental Health Counselors Association; American Music Therapy Association; American Network of Community Options and Resources; American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; American Therapeutic Recreation Association; amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research; AMVETS; APSE; ARC Gateway, Inc.; Arc Northland; Arc of Lucas county; Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL).
   
Association for Assistive Technology Act Programs; Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies; Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living; Association of United States Navy; Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD); Association on Higher Education & Disability; Attention Deficit Disorder Association; Auditory Sciences; Autism National Committee; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Autism Speaks; Bay Area People First; Bay Cove Human Services, Inc.; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Bender Consulting Services, Inc.; Best Buddies International, Inc.; BlazeSports America; Blinded Veterans Association; BlueLaw International; Boston Center for Independent Living.
   
Brain Injury Association of America; Bridge II Sports; Bridgewell; Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University; California Association of the Deaf–Riverside Chapter; CA State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Area Board 5; California Foundation for Independent Living Centers; California State Council on Developmental Disabilities; Californians for Disability Rights, Inc.; CBM; Center for Disability Rights; Center for Independent Living of South Florida, Inc.; Center for Leadership in Disability; Center on Disability and Community Inclusion; Challenged Conquistadors, Inc.; Check and Connect Program–Central Lakes College; Citizens for Patient Safety; Community Access Project Somerville; Community Access Unlimited; Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth.
   
Community Resources for Independent Living; Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities; Consumer Advisory Committee; Council for Exceptional Children; Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation; CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities; Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation; DAWN Center for Independent Living; Deaf and Hard of Hearing Alliance; Deaf Education And Families Project; Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council; Delaware Family Voices; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; Developmental Disabilities Institute, Wayne State University; Disabled American Veterans; Disability Connection/West Michigan; Disability Help Center; Disability Law Center; disABILITY LINK.
   
Disability Partners; disABILITY Resource Center; Disability Rights Coalition; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; Disability Rights Fund; Disability Rights International; Disability Rights Legal Center; disAbility Solutions for Independent Living; Disabled In Action of Metropolitan NYC; Disabled Rights Action Committee; Disabled Sports USA; Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children; Down Syndrome Association of Snohomish County; Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan; Dream Ahead the Empowerment Initiative; Dynamic Independence; East Texas Center for Independent Living; Easter Seals; ED101 Inc.; Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities International, Inc.
   
Employment & Community Options; Epilepsy Foundation; Family Voices; Fearless Nation PTSD Support; Federal Employees with Disabilities (FEDs); FESTAC-USA (Festival of African Arts and Culture); FHI n360; Fiesta Christian foundation Inc.; 504 Democratic Club; Foundations For Change, PC; Four Freedoms Forum; Fox River Industries; FREED Center for Independent Living; Friedman Place; G3ict; Gallaudet University; GlobalPartnersUnited; Goodwill Industries International; Greater Haverhill Newburyport; Handicap International; HEAL; Hearing Loss Association of America.
   
Hearing Loss Association of Los Angeles; Hesperian Health Guides; Higher Education Consortium for Special Education; Human Rights Watch; IDEA Infant Toddler Coordinators Association; Independent Living, Inc.; Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, Inc.; Independent Living Center of the North Shore & Cape Ann, Inc; Institute for Community Inclusion: U. MA Boston; Institute for Human Centered Design; Institute on Human Development and Disability; Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP); Inter-American Institute on Disability; International Ventilator Users Network; Iowa Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC); Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; Jewish War Veterans; Johnson County Board of Services; Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities; Just Advocacy of Mississippi.
   
KEY Consumer Organization, Inc.; KIDZCARE School; L.E.A.N. On Us; Lakeshore Foundation; Lakeside Curative Systems, Inc.; LINC; Little People of America; Living Independence For Everyone (LIFE) of Mississippi; Long Island Center for Independent Living, Inc. (LICIL); Loudon ENDependence; Mainstay Solutions LLC; Maryland Disability Law Center; Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress; Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change; Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network; Medicol Inc.; Mental Health Action; Mental Health America; MI Developmental Disabilities Council; Military Officers Association of America.
   
MindFreedom International; Mobility International USA; Montana Independent Living Project; Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence, Inc.; National Alliance on Mental Illness; National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health; National Association for Black Veterans; National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities; National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors; National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSWD); National Association of School Psychologists; National Association of Social Workers; National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services; National Association of State Directors of Special Education; National Association of State Head Injury Administrators; National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors; National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities; National Association of the Deaf; National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc.; National Center for Environmental Health Strategies.
   
National Center for Learning Disabilities; National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery; National Council on Independent Living; National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare; National Disability Rights Network; National Down Syndrome Congress; National Down Syndrome Society; National Dysautonomia Research Foundation; National Federation of the Blind; National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health; National Guard Association of the United States; National Health Law Program; National Military Family Association; National Minority AIDS Council; National MS Society–Ohio Chapters National MS Society, Pacific South Coast Chapter; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Capital Chapter; National Rehabilitation Association; New York State Independent Living Council; Next Step; NHMH–No Health without Mental Health.
   
Noble County ARC, Inc.; Northeast Arc; Not Dead Yet; Ohio Association of County Boards; Serving People with Developmental Disabilities; Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council; Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries; Oklahoma Association of Centers for Independent Living; Optimal Beginnings, LC; Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation; PA Mental Health Consumers’ Association; Paralyzed Veterans of America; Parent to Parent of NYS; Parent to Parent USA; Peer Assistance Services, Inc.; Peppermint Ridge; Perkins; PhilnthropyNow; Pineda Foundation for Youth; Polio Servivors Association; PPI; Purity Care Investments; PXE International.
   
Raising Special Kids; REACH Resource Centers On Independent Living; Recovery Empowerment Network; Rehabilitation International; RESNA Rolling Start Inc., Rose F. Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; Sandhills Post-Polio Health Group; Schizophrenia and Related Disorders; Alliance of America; School Social Work Association of America; Self Advocacy Council of Northern Illinois; Sindh Disabled Development Society; SoCal ASPE; Social Assistance and Rehabilitation; for the Physically Vulnerable; (SARPV); Socio Economic Development; Alliance (SEDA); Southeast Alaska Independent Living; SPEAK Consulting LLC; Special Needs Advocacy Network; Special Olympics; Spina Bifida Association.
   
Statewide Independent Living Council; TASH Team of Advocates for Special Kids; (TASK); Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children; Tennessee Disability Coalition; Tri-State Downs Syndrome Society; The Ability Center of Greater Toledo; The American Legion; The Arc-Jefferson, Clear Creek & Gilpin Counties; The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas; The Arc California; The Arc Cedar Valley; The Arc Michigan; The Arc Noble County Foundation; The Arc of Bristol County; The Arc of Colorado; The Arc of Dickinson; The Arc of Fort Bend County; The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh; The Arc of Illinois; The Arc of Iowa.
   
The Arc of Massachusetts; The Arc of Northern Virginia; The Arc of Opportunity in North Central Massachusetts; The Arc of the U.S.; The Arc of Virginia; The Arc of Toombs County; The Arc Western Wayne; The California Institute for Mental Health; The Center of Rights of Parents with Disabilities; The Jewish Federations of North America; The Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation; The National Council on Independent Living; The National Center of the Blind Illinois; The Starkloff Disability Institute; Three Rivers Center for Independent Living; Topeka Independent Living; Resource Center; Touchpoint Group, LLC; Tourette Syndrome Association; Treatment Communities of America; Tri count4y ILC.
   
Tri-County Association of the Deaf, Inc., Twin Ports Post Polio Network; United Cerebral Palsy; United Spinal Association; U.S. Business Leadership Network; United States International Council on Disabilities; Utah Assistive Technology Foundation; Vermont Center for Independent Living; Vermont Family Network; Veterans for Common Sense; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Veterans of Modern Warfare; VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association; Vietnam Veterans of American; Voices of the Heart Inc; Whirlwind Wheelchair International; Womens Refugee Commission; WORK, Inc., World Institute on Disability; Wounded Warrior Project; Wyoming Institute for Disabilities.

Over 328 veterans and disability organizations, all of our veterans organizations, who deal with people with disabilities and challenges support this treaty and believe it will make a difference.
   
So when the Senator says: I don’t believe it will make a difference, every working member of the disabilities community disagrees with the Senator.
   
I would just say to him respectfully that the facts are clear. He said this ties our hands. It doesn’t tie our hands. Senator Lee came to the floor earlier, and he agreed this doesn’t require any change of U.S. law.
   
So I would say to my friend, there is no tying of the hands. We understand the fears people have, but I think it is important to try to decide this on the basis of fact.

   
Let me emphasize the importance of the 328 groups, and I have submitted that for the Record.
   
We are going to vote in a few minutes, and we are going to vote on a treaty that I regret to say some people are making controversial when, in fact, it really isn’t controversial.
   
What this treaty says is very simple: It just says that people can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.
   
In four simple words, this treaty says to other countries that don’t respect the rights of the disabled: Be more like us. That is what we are asking people to do. It doesn’t require any changes to American law, zero. This has no tying of the hands of America. There isn’t one law in the United States that would be negatively affected. But it will push, it will leverage, it will require other countries by their commitment to be held accountable to the standard that we have set and take our gold standard and extend it to the rest of the world.
   
There are three reasons I have heard that we can’t do this. When I hear them, I am reminded of what I learned when I was a prosecutor, which was quite a few years ago now. I learned: If the facts are against you, then argue the law. If the law is against you, then argue the facts. If both are against you, just make it up.
   
Well, that is exactly what is happening here. Neither the law nor the facts support any argument that has been made on the other side of this treaty. Accordingly, we are facing an entirely fictitious set of arguments–on abortion, on homeschooling, on lameduck sessions. All of their arguments have been contradicted by the facts in the law, and let me document that.
   
This treaty is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. We passed that 20 years ago.
   
The father of the act is sitting here, the Senator from Iowa. In all those 20 years, has any child been separated from a parent because of the ADA? No. Has homeschooling been hurt? No. In fact it has grown and is flourishing across the Nation.
   
How is it possible a treaty, that according to our Supreme Court offers no recourse, no change in American law, no access to American courts, how is it possible that such a treaty could threaten anybody in our country? The answer is simple: It doesn’t and it can’t.
   
Well, let’s go through the arguments one by one. First, they say it would undermine our sovereignty. I have heard several people suggest that, the laws governing the disabled. Well, that is wrong. Senator Lee just admitted it doesn’t affect any law in the United States. All it does is create a committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.
   
What can this committee do? All it can do is review reports and make a suggestion. Are we scared, in the United States of America, of someone making a suggestion to us about how we might do something? It has no recourse in the court, no legal standing.
   
The Foreign Relations Committee even included language in the resolution of advice and consent to make it crystal clear. What are we afraid of? That the committee would give us this advice?
   
The second misconception is that this will allow the Federal Government, acting under U.N. instructions, to determine what is best for children with disabilities. Again, that is just flat wrong. The treaty does not give the Federal Government or any State government any new powers with respect to children with disabilities. It doesn’t change the balance of power between Federal and State government. It doesn’t require any change to existing State or Federal law.
   
The Justice Department, former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, testified before the Foreign Relations Committee that any assertion to the contrary is incorrect. Our committee even included language in the resolution of advice and consent to absolutely crystallize those limitations.
   
Finally, there are those who argue that a lameduck session is an inappropriate time for Senators to consider this treaty. Well, my colleagues, please, since the 1970s alone, the Senate has approved treaties during lameduck sessions a total of 19 times. There is nothing special or different about a lameduck. It is a session of the Congress. Just as we are going to consider important fiscal matters, we should consider other important matters.
   
Our constituents expect us to do our jobs. There is no difference between a lameduck, a dead duck, or a regular duck. We ought to be here doing our jobs.
   
More than any of the straw men, though, that we would have to deal with in this debate, there is, in fact, something much bigger at stake. This treaty and this vote will say a great deal about who we are in the Senate and who we are as a country.
   
In the nearly 30 years I have been here, I think this is the first time I have seen a former majority leader of the Senate come to the Senate floor for a vote. It is certainly the first time that I have seen it happen when he had every right to be at home at age 89 taking care of his health, but that is not Bob Dole.
   
Almost 70 years ago, when he came home to Kansas from the battlefields of Italy in a full body cast, people said that Bob would never have to work another day in his life. That is what they said; he was a hero; he had made his contribution. But Bob Dole worked every single day to stand, to walk, and to use his arms again. He made himself get out of that bed, and he made himself a public servant and a U.S. Senator and the Republican nominee for President in 1996. But his greatest pride was passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
   
Bob Dole, why is he here? He is not here because he is here to advocate for the United Nations, and certainly this man who served his country is not here because he doesn’t want to defend the sovereignty of the United States of America. He is here because he wants to know that other countries will come to treat the disabled the way we do.
   
He is here because he wants to know that when a disabled American veteran, our wounded warriors, travel overseas, they are treated with the same dignity and respect they receive at home. That is why an 89-year-old veteran, 1 week removed from Bethesda Naval Hospital, comes back to the Senate on an early December day. Because it matters.
   
What we do in the Senate matters not just to us but to people all across the globe, and maybe some people here need to be reminded of that. This is not about politics, this is not about ideology, this is about people.
   
This treaty helps thousands of vets, men and women, who paid the price of devotion to our country with their limbs–with their limbs–and they struggle every day to get up, button their shirts, get out of the house. Some of them struggle to be able to share in life as all of us are able to share in it.
   
I met one of them yesterday, Army Afghan vet Dan Berschinski, a double amputee as a result of the war in Afghanistan. He has fought back, and he has recovered enough to create a small business. Here is what he said, this West Point grad of 2007:

   I’m proud to be able to walk using prosthetic legs. Yet obstacles that might seem inconsequential to the fully able-bodied, like sidewalk curbs and stairs, take on a whole new meaning for veterans like me who struggle to walk, or use a wheelchair. Very fortunately for me, the United States leads the world in accessibility and equality of opportunity for the disabled. Unfortunately, the advantages granted here at home–that allow people like me to live fulfilling, independent lives–don’t exist in much of the rest of the world.
   Eight months after being wounded in combat, and while still a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I joined–

And I am speaking for him–

   a few friends in a trip to South Africa to watch the World Cup.
   There I found myself in a different country, with no legs, a brand-new wheelchair and a lot of apprehension. While I should have been enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime trip, I was constantly worried about my ability to get around. Would the restaurant have an accessible bathroom or would I have to go without it? Would my wheelchair be able to fit in the hotel doorway or would I need to be carried into the lobby? Those are the kinds of questions we take for granted here in America, but, unfortunately, the accessibility measures we enjoy here simply aren’t present in many other countries.

That is why Bob Dole and CPT Dan Berschinski want us to approve this treaty. I have heard nothing from the other side that outweighs the reality of that consideration for not just veterans but all persons with disabilities.
   
What is at stake here is big. The outcome here will not, despite the fear, change one election here in the Senate. It is not going to decide one of the primaries that I fear are distorting the politics of our country. But you know what, it will decide whether some people live or die in another country, where there is no accountability and only United States values and standards are the difference to the prospects of someone with a disability.
   
In some countries children are disposed of–killed–because they have a disability. Our treaty can actually help prevent that. In some countries children do not get to go to school and certainly have no prospects of a future simply because they are born with a disability. This treaty will help offer hope where there is none. The United States could actually sit at the table and make the difference for people with disabilities because we are willing to push our values and hold other nations accountable to meet our standards–the gold standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
   
Mr. President, I have heard some of my Republican colleagues talk many times about making the rest of the world more like America. I hate to think that now, when we have an opportunity to do that, they will retreat from that core conviction and oppose a treaty modeled on the United States’ example which has no recourse in American courts and no effect on American law.
   
This treaty isn’t about American behavior, except to the degree that it influences other countries to be more like us. This treaty is about the behavior of other countries and their willingness to raise their treatment of people with disabilities to our level. It is that simple. This treaty isn’t about changing America, it is a treaty to change the world to be more like America.
   
So why join, I have heard my colleagues ask several times. If it doesn’t have recourse in the law, why join? I will tell you why: Because we can sit at the table and affect the lives of our citizens by pushing other countries upwards; because we gain credibility and accelerate change through our advocacy by being part of a process; because it is good for American businesses, which can sell products and services as other nations raise their standards and need our expertise to meet their goals. That is why, incidentally, the United States Chamber of Commerce supports this treaty as do a huge number of businesses.
   
Why support it? Because George H. W. Bush started this process and President George W. Bush signed the treaty to participate in it. And because, in the end, this treaty and our participation in it–and this is the most important–can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. To join it is to keep faith with the men and women who have suffered grievous disability in defense of our Nation, and we owe them nothing less. This treaty is not about changing America, it is about America changing the world.
   
But a vote here is a test of this institution. This vote is a test of whether the Senate, which passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is still capable of voting to change things, not to mention sending a message that could change the world.
   
I ask my colleagues to do for the world what they have done for America, walk down the aisle here for millions everywhere who cannot walk and make a statement; raise your voice and vote for millions who are voiceless in their own lands; stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. This is not about the United Nations, this is about common humanity. This vote is to test to see whether the Senate will stand for those who cannot see or hear and whether Senators can hear the truth and see the facts.
   
Please don’t let Captain Berschinski down. Don’t let Senator Bob Dole down. Most importantly, don’t let the Senate and the country down. Approve this treaty.

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