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Mr. HARKIN. First of all, I commend and compliment my friend from Connecticut for sponsoring this bill and pushing it through. Animal fighting is a despicable thing to be engaged in. To think people take their kids there, and families. It is something we should not be doing and I thank the Senator for his leadership on that issue, getting the bill passed.
CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
I want to take the floor for a few moments. I know others want to speak. They were kind enough to let me get in front of them. I want to comment for a couple of minutes on the vote today on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. I said off the floor that this was a shameful day for the Senate, and I meant it. Today was a shameful day for the Senate. To turn our backs on a convention, a treaty which was based upon the Americans With Disabilities Act in our own country that is now 22 years old and has done so much to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities and their families, to turn our backs on that for no real reason is something I have a hard time comprehending, and I have been in the Senate a long time now.
There are reasons people can come up with a vote this way or that on certain things and most times they are very legitimate. People might have some legitimate concerns about a bill or an amendment. I could find no legitimate concerns about the Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities--legitimate concerns. We heard all this talk about home schoolers, people who are homeschooling their kids, the U.N. was going to come in and take them away--nonsense, utter, sheer nonsense.
What happened today was the triumph on the Senate floor of fear. Unfounded, unreasonable fear triumphed over experience--the experience we have had with the Americans With Disabilities Act, reasoned, rational thought--unfounded fears that somehow, someplace, somebody is going to do something. Out of the U.N. they are going to come in and take over or something. But we proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that none of our laws had to be changed. This gave the U.N. no authority over our country or our laws or anything. Yet this unfounded fear took hold to the point where people who were sponsors of the bill voted against it. Sponsors of it now turned around and voted against it. Again, for what reason? Unfounded fear.
What message did we send today to the rest of the world? A message that, OK, we are pretty good. We did a lot of good stuff in terms of passing legislation to uphold the rights of people with disabilities, to break down barriers, give people with disabilities opportunities the same as everyone else. We have become a better country for it, a better Nation.
Other countries have come to us over the intervening last 22 years to find out how we did it, what they could do. So here the United Nations said we would come up with a convention, a treaty for all countries, and put it up for them to sign it, encouraging them to emulate what we did. This would be giving us a seat at the table helping other countries to bring their laws more up to what ours are in terms of the rights of people with disabilities.
But we turned our backs on that. There are a lot of things that make America a shining city on a hill, but there is one thing that no one can dispute that does put America as a shining city on a hill and that is the Americans With Disabilities Act and what it has done to our society, like our Civil Rights Act, what it has done to break down the barriers and to show that people with disabilities can contribute to society if only given the chance and the opportunity.
You would think we would want to then say, yes, we will be a part of a worldwide effort to break down those barriers against people with disabilities. We want to be part of a worldwide effort to say it is not all right, it is not OK to leave a baby on the side of the road to die simply because that baby has Down Syndrome. You would think we would want to be part of a global effort that says it is not all right to keep kids out of school and away from education because they have a physical disability--they use a wheelchair--or have an intellectual disability. You would think we would want to be part of an effort such as that, that says it is not OK to put people in cells, chained in cells, people whose only crime is that they are disabled. You would think we would want to be part of that effort.
We have done that in this country. We have done wonderful things. Yet there is some fear, some unfounded fear that the United Nations is going to come in with a black helicopter or something, I don't know what, and say you cannot homeschool your kids.
The Americans With Disabilities Act, we had it for 20 years. Did it stop home schooling? Of course not. Did it lead to more abortions? Of course not.
After this vote, after it was defeated, I walked out into the reception room, the Senate reception room. There was a throng, a number of people in the disability community. They were crushed, just crushed. They could not understand this. How could it be? Every disability community in America, every disability organization supported this. We had 21 veterans organizations, everything from the American Legion to the VFW, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Disabled Veterans of America--21. Every veterans group supported this.
I ask, were these veterans groups so dumb, so blind, so misled to support something that is going to give the U.N. the right to come in and take kids out of your home? That is what people were saying. They do not get it, veterans groups? Is that what they were saying, that they do not understand this?
Of course they understood it. They know those were unfounded fears. Walk out and see Yoshiko Dart out there, holding Justin Dart's hat; Justin Dart, God love him. A man in a wheelchair, used it almost every day in his life; a man who traveled throughout this country day after day to get people organized to support the Americans With Disabilities Act, Justin Dart. He has since passed on, but his widow carries his hat around. She had his hat there and they were just crushed by this vote. How could we turn our backs on something so important to our country and the world? Pat Wright--others.
Before we had the vote we had a wonderful ceremony honoring Bob Dole. Yesterday was the International Disability Rights Day, so they wanted to honor Bob Dole for all he had done, Senator Dole. It was a wonderful event. I saw people over there honoring Bob Dole for all the work he had done on disability rights who voted against the bill today.
Mr. LEAHY. That is right.
Mr. HARKIN. I said, wait a minute, they are there to honor all the work Bob Dole had done on disability and Bob Dole was one of the strongest supporters of the CRPD, as it is called. He came over here today in his wheelchair with his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole. Yet people voted against it. I do not get it.
Veterans? There was a young veteran sitting in the gallery today. I met him yesterday for the first time. Senator Kerry spoke at length about him. His name is Dan Berschinski. I ask unanimous consent to have his op-ed printed in the Record at the conclusion of my speech.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See exhibit 1.)
Mr. HARKIN. I met him yesterday, a young man 25 years old. He said for the first 25 years of my life I was an able-bodied American and played football and soccer, even ran a few marathons.
He graduated from West Point and went to Afghanistan and had both of his legs blown off. He walks on prosthetic legs now and talks about going to South Africa on a trip and the fear gripped him because of the fact he couldn't get around. In the hotel they had curbs. He had the kind of problems he doesn't have here.
I saw him out here in the reception room after the vote. He had been sitting in the gallery. He came down. I went up to him and I said: Dan, what can I say? I am sorry. I am sorry. But, I said, we will come back again. We are going to come back at this thing. But, I said, I am sorry.
You know what he said to me? He said: You know, Senator, watching this and seeing this makes me want to get just about as far away from politics as I can.
Is that the message we send to young veterans, young heroes like this?
I don't want to take any more time. Others want to speak. As I said, it is a shameful day. I do say we will be back. Senator Kerry will be back, Senator McCain. Again, I give them the highest plaudits for what they did. Senator McCain and Senator Kerry did a magnificent job, and Senator Lugar, in carrying this bill forward. I know they do not want to give up either. I was hoping we would pass it before Senator Lugar leaves the Senate. It would have been wonderful that Senator Lugar did this during his time here in the Senate. But I guess that is not to be.
We will be back in January or February. Senator Kerry is committed to doing that, bringing it back to the committee, so we will be back again. I hope over the Christmas break and New Year's those who did not vote to support this will search their conscience, search their soul, think more about our being involved in this and having a seat at the table, helping the rest of the world change their laws. I hope when we come back we will have some reconsiderations and people recognize that maybe the first vote was not the right vote and change their vote and maybe we can get it passed then. That is my hope. I hope we can get to that when we come back after the first of the year.
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