It was a close one as Senate votes go. Sen. John Kerry had just given a fiery speech in support of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the clerk began to call the roll. Slowly, the lawmakers filed their votes in the well of the Senate, coming painfully close to making the CRPD law. They came just five votes short. And in the aftermath, the Heritage Foundation smiled at a job well done. In the influential think tank's view, the treaty "would obligate the federal government to defer to an unaccountable committee of academics and 'disability experts' in Switzerland in violation of the principles of U.S. sovereignty and federalism."
It would do nothing of the sort. Originally negotiated by George H.W. Bush's administration and signed by President Barack Obama, the CRPD is based almost entirely on the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed overwhelmingly in 1990. Nothing in the Senate ratification bill required any changes to U.S. laws or any deference to power-hungry Swiss technocrats. Nor was there any truth in the impassioned shouts of former Sen. Rick Santorum that the treaty's passage would strip rights from parents of disabled children. For the most part, the vote would have ratified a treaty fully consistent and in support of the biggest piece of U.S. civil rights legislation in the last 30 years. The vote failed anyway.
As Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin has reported, the result bitterly disappointed members of the disabled community, who had believed up until the conclusion that ratification was imminent. Not even the presence of a wheelchair-bound Bob Dole, the former Republican presidential candidate, on the floor could sway them. Majority Leader Harry Reid has already pledged that the treaty will be returning for another vote in the next Congress. Among those who won't be around for the next vote, but were instrumental in its failure this time around, is Sen. Jim DeMint, soon to be the former junior member from South Carolina, who announced two days later that he is leaving the Senate to become the Heritage Foundation's president.
DeMint's vote was never in question. The senator has long shown contempt for anything resembling international law. In rallying 33 of his fellow Senators to kill another treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would codify international maritime boundaries and allow improved access for U.S. corporations to undersea resources and is supported by everyone from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, DeMint somehow managed to argue that the treaty "reflects political, economic, and ideological assumptions which are inconsistent with American values and sovereignty."
DeMint also did his best to spread the worst, most misleading rumors surrounding the disability treaty's contents, often mirroring Heritage's arguments against ratification. "We're afraid that if the language suggests that parental authority is not absolute, we're going to have an international body telling our parents they can't home-school," DeMint told WorldNetDaily, a site best known for peddling "birther" conspiracy theories about Obama.
Now, DeMint is leaving the Senate to head the organization that served as his own personal echo chamber -- and getting a nice pay bump in the process. It's a match made in heaven. DeMint has voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. He has introduced a bill to amend the Bretton Woods Agreements Act to repeal U.S. authority to provide loans to the IMF. He has often seemed to have difficulty distinguishing between Russia and the Soviet Union. And now he, in his own words, "feels like I just walked in the front door of my own house" to the group that has given him a 99 percent approval rating on his work in the Senate.
And what a group it is. The Heritage Foundation holds a special place in Washington's power corridors. Founded in the early 1970s and arguably the most important think tank in Washington during Ronald Reagan's years, the foundation has been highly influential in pushing policies ranging from missile defense to welfare reform to -- ironically -- an early version of Obama's health-care plan. Ostensibly more than a talking-points shop, Heritage continues to be a brand name in the capital, respected as a thought leader by some despite years of proof that the ideas it puts forward lack both rigor and basis in reality.