Nightly News   |  December 04, 2012

Senate fails to ratify UN disabilities treaty

Conservative opponents said some countries with poor human rights records, like China, would get a pass. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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>> was not the only aspect of disagreement on display today in washington. as we said, there was that momentous vote in the senate that died a victim of politics. and failed despite a personal plea from a very senior states man. kelly o'donnell covered the hill for us. she's there tonight on capitol hill , kelly , good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brirn. for those looking for cooperation tonight, only disappointment, even real sadness over what happened with this treaty intended to help the disabled. the appeal brought together three former presidential candidates , and the unusual site of a former senate majority leader back on the floor he once ran in the moments leading up to the vote. once a giant of the senate, visible in the corner of the c-span camera, today, though, frail and rarely seen in public, bob dole the war hero , presidential candidate , champion of disabled rights , tried to change the contentious spirit of this senate for disabled people around the world.

>> that's why an 89-year-old veteran, one week removed from bethesda naval hospital comes back to the senate on an early december day, because it matters.

>> reporter: matters to people like disabled veterans, dan lost both legs in afghanistan.

>> only by voting in favor of the disabilities treaty are we truly honor ing the disabled while answering the call.

>> reporter: the treaty, approved by 126 countries would promote equal rights and better treatment for the disabled, inspired by u.s. law . the americans with disabilities act .

>> mr. president, i come to the floor with a bit of a heavy heart today.

>> reporter: like dole, john kerry and john mccain are combat veterans who once aspired to the white house . today they fell short again. dole's own party failed him. five republican votes short of the 66 needed. conservative and tea party opponents say countries like china with a poor human rights record would get a pass.

>> what it does do is allow their leaders to falsely present themselves as forward leaning on disabled rights .

>> mr. chandliss, no.

>> reporter: for some no votes, politics, the risk of a gop primary challenge got in the way.

>> to vote for anything that is even perceived to be granting the u.n. power is a dangerous game for a republican senator. the u.n. is so unpopular among the republican base.

>> and that was the complaint we heard most often from conservatives. a worry about the u.n. getting more power. proponents of the treaty said that isn't the case. it's unusual to see tears shed in the senate chamber. i witnessed that today. after the vote, many disabled people did attend. i saw a woman in a wheelchair, leaving with tears rolling down her face about.

>> kelly o'donnell today on capitol hill . thanks for that.