Now he was in a wheelchair, pushed by his wife, Elizabeth, also a former senator. It was not lost on Dole that many of the requirements of the ADA bill, including the ubiquitous “curb cuts” that made it easier to navigate sidewalks, now made it easier for him to get around. His empathy for people with disabilities had only increased. So as leaders in the disabilities community gathered with members of both parties to honor Dole’s work, the reception was intended as a prelude to the vote later in the day.
It was around noon when Dole was wheeled on to the Senate floor as the final debate was underway.
To one side was Dole’s old friend, Senator John McCain. Both had been losing presidential nominees, but their bond was deeper than that; during the five years that McCain had been a prisoner of war, Dole had worn a bracelet with McCain’s name. McCain had worked with Dole to win passage of the ADA 22 years earlier, and he had been part of the bipartisan group of senators working to win passage of the treaty.
McCain used part of his time during the debate to read a letter from Dole urging passage and was “deeply grieved” as he observed Republicans rejecting the plea of the party’s former leader.
“It was, frankly, a lesson about this town . . . a lesson about the transience of power and the meaning of friendship,” McCain recalled in a recent interview. McCain, meanwhile, didn’t know Moran “well” and didn’t have a chance to talk to the Kansas senator about his change of position. The schism within the GOP that day was as stark as McCain had seen it. The assertions by opponents “were just nonsense,” McCain said, but they had stuck.
Kerry, who was in charge of efforts to pass the treaty, sounded exasperated as he pleaded on the Senate floor for votes. Referring to Dole, Kerry said: “The father of the (1990) act is sitting here . . . in all those 20 years, has any child been separated from a parent? No. Has home schooling been hurt? No. In fact it has grown and is flourishing across the nation.”
Dole watched from his wheelchair, as his wife patted him on the shoulder. One by one, Republicans turned against Dole and the treaty. Midway through the tally, sensing the outcome, he rolled out of the chamber. There were at least a couple of senators, Dole said in the interview later, “who were for it and they saw it going down the tubes and they voted ‘No.’ ”
The Senate voted 61 to 38, five short of the two-thirds needed for approval. All of the 38 votes against the legislation were cast by Republicans. Many of them walked off the floor without greeting Dole. His fight was over, at least for the moment.
In addition to the opposition from the Kansans, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who had backed the bill in committee, voted against it on the floor; he and 35 other Republicans had signed a letter opposing treaty votes during lame-duck sessions, although that practice has been common. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi at first voted for the measure on the floor, according to media reports at the time, but switched his vote in the final count. (Isakson and Cochran did not return calls seeking comment.) Several other senators had waited until the last moment to see how the vote was going and voted against it.
McCain, a 26-year veteran of the Senate, said it was his worst day in the chamber. “When you see the former nominee of the Republican Party on the floor in a wheelchair, in what might be his last real effort, voted down by Republican after Republican, I can’t tell you how sad that was to me,” McCain said.
Dole was devastated. “The home-schoolers thought the UN would be involved in how they dealt with their children,” he said. “I don’t know how they got there, but once the stampede starts, they notify their leaders to start ringing the phones, sending the e-mails. It’s really effective.”
Dole, famously acerbic, concluded: “There must be more home-schoolers out there than I thought.”
In the end, eight Republicans supported the bill, including four New Englanders: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
“The Pact,” under which disabilities legislation would be supported on a bipartisan basis, was dead.
During one of Dole’s recent hospitalizations, President Obama stopped by for a visit, and the two former senators discussed why it is so difficult to get things done in the chamber.
The president said he wished Dole were still in the Senate.
“I’m not sure I do,” Dole said he told Obama, “not because of you, Mr. President, but because it is intractable.”Continued...