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Disability & Foreign Policy: What are Senate Candidates’ Positions?

Washington, Nov. 1 – America is known for its history of standing up for people who are oppressed around the world. As that tradition moves forward, it includes the rights of people with disabilities.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for Senate about their foreign policy and national security plans to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of people with disabilities around the world as part of its #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 17 in the Senate questionnaire: “In your foreign policy and national security plan, do you plan to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of oppressed people, including people with disabilities, around the world?” This was adapted from a similar question, number 16, in the presidential questionnaire.

Overwhelmingly from both sides of the aisle, political candidates answered in the affirmative.

“Our country should support any nation in achieving a level of disability rights and opportunities available to those living with disabilities in the United States,” Democrat North Carolina State Rep. Deborah Ross replied.

Her opponent, Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr, agreed that the United States “has a responsibility to set the highest possible standard.” He added: “The United States also has the ability to influence the behavior of other nations in how they treat their citizens. It is important that America’s leaders continue to use every opportunity in international fora to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, including people with disabilities who are being mistreated.”

Many candidates also talked about their support for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) treaty, which is supported by hundreds of disability organizations and Democrats and Republicans alike. CRPD’s goal is to protect the rights of people with disabilities globally. Inspired by the framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the CRPD was signed by the United Nations in 2009. On December 4, 2012, the Senate considered the ratification of the act, but it fell five votes shy of a supermajority vote. Opponents raised questions about U.S. sovereignty and other issues. Since that failure, there has been a call for ratification in subsequent congresses, with a strong possibility for a vote in the 115th Congress.

In Illinois, both Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth are passionate proponents of the measure. Kirk recently became a member of the disability community after having a stroke in 2012 and Duckworth joined the community after injuries sustained in 2004 in Iraq.

“In 2014, Senator Kirk encouraged Senate ratification on this measure and stated that the CRPD will ensure that our wounded warriors and disabled citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections around the world that they enjoy here at home,” his campaign wrote in the questionnaire.

Duckworth, like Kirk, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In her response to the questionnaire, she said she “didn’t risk my life in Iraq to come back to a country that ignores human rights atrocities and turns its back on those in need” and stressed the need to “ensure the long-term safety of Americans at home and abroad.”

Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:

Presidential Candidates
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“Our national security is not divorced from our commitment to strengthen and protect American values abroad: Where the dignity of any individual or group is compromised because of who they are, we are all at risk. I had the privilege to share this vision of a foreign policy rooted in our common humanity with the United Nations on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights almost two decades ago. We still have a long way to go.

I am incredibly proud of the work I did as Secretary of State to champion human rights around the world – the rights of women, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, the rights of the LGBT community, and the rights of people with disabilities. At the State Department, we made the inclusion of persons with disabilities a cornerstone of our policies and at home and abroad. I appointed the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of all persons with disabilities across the globe. We worked to ensure the Department was accessible to staff and visitors with disabilities, through advances in infrastructure, communication, and information technology. Our Disability Advisory Group made invaluable contributions to the work of the Department and demonstrated daily the incredible importance of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce. I was proud when President Obama signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and I fought relentlessly to secure its passage – we fell just six votes short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification, despite members in Congress who steadfastly refused to support it.

America has long been a global pioneer in combating disability discrimination and promoting the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. The ADA inspired the adoption of disability rights legislation around the world, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which incorporates the ADA’s core principles. I will continue to fight to secure its ratification as President, and to defend and build on its vision of a world in which persons with disabilities in every nation have equal access to schools, equal access to jobs, equal access to healthcare, equal access to civil rights and political rights and human rights.”

Senate Candidates

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris has been a champion for civil rights and it is her belief that civil rights and human rights must be recognized around the world. As a civil rights leader, it is crucial that America sets an example for the rest of the world. Like Hillary Clinton, Kamala will fight to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In addition, Kamala will continue to support President Obama’s newly-created Disability Office at the Department of State, which is critical to the Administration’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally.”

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“Throughout my Congressional career, I have stood up for the most vulnerable around the world. Whether it was protecting the refugees in the Middle East or standing up for prisoners of conscience in Asia, I have spoken loudly against discrimination and oppression. As a country that prides itself on being the beacon of freedom and opportunity, we cannot stand for any type of discrimination at home or abroad. As U.S. Senator, I will continue to make sure that this great country continues to be a leader on disability rights law, and pushes to repeal laws or policies that discriminate against people with disabilities at home and abroad.”

Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“One of the themes of my plan is the continued support for oppressed individuals around the world. Without question, that will include those with disabilities.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“From ISIS and instability in the Middle East, to Russia’s reassertion of influence, to China’s uneven and unpredictable economy, we’re living in uncertain times. Rather than retreating, we must play a more active role in leading the international community to face these diverse challenges. My 23 years in the Reserve Forces, my long study of international relations in the academic environment, and my experiences growing up as an American in war-torn areas, inform my views on national security and foreign policy.

I didn’t risk my life in Iraq to come back to a country that ignores human rights atrocities and turns its back on those in need. Instead, we need a solution that is both rigorous and measured to ensure the long-term safety of Americans at home and abroad.

I will work to ensure that we do not send our troops into harm’s way without fully considering and understanding the true costs of war.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (IL-R)
“Senator Kirk supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was adopted by the UN in 2006. In 2014, Senator Kirk encouraged Senate ratification on this measure and stated that the CRPD will ensure that our wounded warriors and disabled citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections around the world that they enjoy here at home.”

Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“America is generous with its wealth. We can deploy our resources to help those with disabilities. There is no social, economic, or political benefit by tolerating the oppression of the disabled.”

Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“Disability rights are human rights. America must set an example here at home, and live our values in a global sense by refusing to accept discrimination in every corner of the world. I will support policies that promote disability rights in our trade deals, diplomatic endeavors and national security projects.”

Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“Rights for those with disabilities are human rights. It is a part of our American heritage and tradition to stand up for the rights of oppressed peoples around the globe, including those with disabilities. I fully support the initiatives that the State Department and USAID have implemented in bringing advocacy and awareness to these marginalized groups around the world. Furthermore, that’s why I support the United States joining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“The United States should lead a global coalition that will be relentless in keeping America, Israel and all of our allies safe. Ronald Reagan promoted “peace through strength.” He was right. As your Senator, I will work to rebuild our military and ensure that we have the strongest, most capable fighting force available.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“Absolutely. As a world leader, the U.S. must work with other countries to ensure that all people, including those with disabilities, are treated fairly and equally.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“It is unconscionable that the Senate has so far failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and has in fact shamefully blocked it on the Floor. It is particularly inexcusable as the Convention would simply require other countries to meet the standard the United States set with Americans with Disabilities Act. Over 150 nations have signed the treaty and America has failed to show leadership. We must do better.

In addition to finally ratifying the convention, we must continually monitor for human rights abuses across the world and stand up for the rights of all people, including those with disabilities. My father was in the Foreign Service, and as I traveled the world with my family as a child, I was always struck by the example the United States set for so many people as a beacon of freedom and democracy. We must continue to uphold that example and speak out for the rights of all.”

Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“Throughout my career, I have stood up for those who need it most. As a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, I worked to investigate groups and individuals suspected of assisting Al Qaeda and the Taliban – oppressive groups who went after the most vulnerable. Fighting against discrimination is an American value and necessary in promoting stability in the world. As Senator, I will make sure the U.S. remains a leader on these issues and assists governments as they make the transitions to a fully inclusive society.”

Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“The world is a safer, better place when America leads and defends the values we have always held dear. This includes standing up for the rights of the disabled in other countries who so often bear the brunt of the oppressive regimes under which they live. America must remain vigilant as events around the globe unfold and we must be willing to take action when atrocities are committed against those most vulnerable. Fundamental to this robust foreign policy is ensuring we provide adequate funding to our military and national defense apparatus. We cannot exert influence on events around the world and be a global force for good if we are not committed to providing the funding necessary to act when necessary.”

Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“In the Senate I plan to continue my advocacy work for the rights of our most vulnerable and oppressed people around the world, including the rights of people with disabilities. I will continue to fight for the human rights of all peoples, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in international advocacy to develop effective policy to protect people with disabilities around the world.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I have been a leader in the Senate calling for the ratification of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities to better protect Americans with disabilities living, working, or traveling abroad. Ratifying the CRPD is just the right thing to do, and I won’t let up until we get it done.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“In my national security plan I discuss how America’s values are a source of strength in foreign affairs and about the importance of continuing to stand up for human rights around the world – including the rights of people with disabilities.”

Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“I have always believed that the United States has a responsibility to set the highest possible standard for how we treat all people, including those with disabilities.

One excellent example of promoting understanding is through the Special Olympics. I have been a longtime, consistent supporter of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Special Olympics Act because I believe the games provide a wonderful opportunity not only for the athletes to develop skills and compete, but also for America to showcase its leadership in disability rights. I have been honored by the Special Olympics of North Carolina for my work in promoting the Special Olympics, a distinction I am humbled to receive.

The United States also has the ability to influence the behavior of other nations in how they treat their citizens. It is important that America’s leaders continue to use every opportunity in international fora to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, including people with disabilities who are being mistreated.”

State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
Our country should support any nation in achieving a level of disability rights and opportunities available to those living with disabilities in the United States.”

Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“As a Senator, I intend to push for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Also, many of our trade deals such as NAFTA and GATT are based on the idea that somehow trade must be kept separate from any other kind of issue. That is trade can’t be used to pressure other countries to improve workers’ rights or the rights of the disabled or the rights of LGBT people. I intend to push for a repeal of many of these trade deals, allowing the US government to pressure other countries that violated their citizens’ rights by allowing us again to impose trade sanctions.”

Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“I believe that America needs to lead the world in equality and in human rights and will actively support this. I believe that as an advanced nation that has the ability of bettering the lives of individuals with disabilities in America we can as well show the rest of the world the importance to do so and the knowhow. Just as mentioned in your questions above regarding crime, this is an issue around the world. In order to empower the disabled to live a life of quality, we must also ensure they are educated and offered a way to be protected. I believe in protecting the innocent and consider America a beacon of hope.”

Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“I feel that the best way for America to show our support for people with disabilities internationally would be to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and encourage all nations to adopt the standards set forth in the ADA. In the Senate, I would absolutely vote to ratify and would encourage my colleagues to do the same.”

Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected. Although it is the duty of a U.S. Senator to monitor and evaluate the foreign policy of the USA, it is specifically the duty of the Administrative branch of the government to create and implement foreign policy and national security plans.”

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“People with disabilities in America and around the world deserve equal dignity, respect, and opportunity, and the United States must lead by example by supporting the rights of oppressed people at home and abroad. A foreign policy that integrates disability isn’t just important for people with disabilities living in other countries, it’s also vital for Americans with disabilities when they work or travel abroad. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms the essential rights of persons with disabilities and creates standards that will make the world more accessible, yet the incumbent Senator, Ron Johnson, voted against it.”


RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.

The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

Published in#PwDsVote 2016 QuestionnaireCongressSenate

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