Read time: 12 minutes

Anderson Cooper Takes On Wingnut Mike Lee's Arguments Against U.N. Disability Treaty

As we already discussed here and as Jon Stewart rightfully mocked this week, Republicans have gone off of the rails with their opposition to this United Nations treaty that they just shamefully voted down in the Senate, because the homeschooling
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As we already discussed here and as Jon Stewart rightfully mocked this week, Republicans have gone off of the rails with their opposition to this United Nations treaty that they just shamefully voted down in the Senate, because the homeschooling crowd is scared to death that the U.N. is going to somehow impose agreements from international treaties onto the citizens of the United States.

This Friday evening, CNN's Anderson Cooper decided to actually do his job and pushed back at wingnut Mike Lee, who was one of the leading voices in the Senate who made sure the treaty wasn't approved.

As Hullabaloo's David Atkins rightfully observed on that topic:

We shouldn't have to hit rock bottom for CNN to start actually doing its job. But at least we've found a level of insanity that will actually prompt some legitimate journalism.

As Raw Story noted, Cooper pretty well destroyed most of Lee's arguments about why he opposes the treaty. I'll be surprised if he's back on there any time soon. Cooper was polite, but he managed to show Lee for the dishonest embarrassment that he is along with the rest of them that voted with him during the interview.

Full transcript and video of Cooper's interview with Lee below the fold.

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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight as we do every night, "Keeping Them Honest" not trying to take sides, pulling punches for Democrats or Republicans. You can find that on other cable channels. Our goal is real reporting, finding the truth, looking for facts.

Now, for two nights, we have been looking for any facts, a single shred of evidence that might support the inflammatory claims heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate that were used to block a U.N. treaty, a treaty meant to improve the lives of millions of disabled people around the entire world. Now, the treaty is called the United Nations conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities and it was modeled on the Americans with disabilities act.

Now, the treaty was meant to encourage other countries to be more like the U.S. on the issue of equal rights for the disabled. Also disabled Americans or vets who visit o or live in other countries could potentially benefit from the treaty. Now, 125 countries ratified the treaty but on Tuesday, 38 U.S. Republicans, senators, voted against it. Their names right there on the right of the screen. Now, some of them flip-flopped at the last minute, some senators had actually signaled support for the treaty, and then, indicated that they would vote for it only to vote against it.

One of the actual measures co-sponsors of it, he actually voted against it. One of the co-sponsors of it, Senator Jerry Moran. That guy, there. He actually voted against it that he then co-sponsored. It's amazing. He voted against the bill that he had co-sponsored.

Now, we asked senator Moran to come on the program yesterday, today as well. He declined. A former senator got involved on this as well, Rick Santorum, whose 4-year-old daughter Bella is disabled. He was one of the treaty's strongest opponents. Here's what he said last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a direct assault on us and our family to hand over to the state the ability to make medical determinations and see what is in the best interests of the child and not look at the wonderful gift that every child is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Moran apologized for that.

Now, as you might imagine, those claims alarmed a lot of parents with disabled children, but keeping them honest, Mr. Santorum's claims are just not based in fact. He's claiming that the treaty would give U.N. Bureaucrats power over U.S. law affecting disabled kids but the treaty would not change U.S. law. In fact, there's no precedent that we can find that any U.N. treaty has ever changed U.S. law. We'll dig deeper on that in a moment.

After the vote, CNN asked Senator John Kerry, a strong supporter of the treaty, about Santorum's claims. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I have great respect for both Rick and his wife, Karen, and their daughter and their family. He's a strong family man. But he either simply hasn't read the treaty or doesn't understand it or he was just not factual in what he said, because the United Nations has absolutely zero, zero, I mean zero ability to order or to tell or to even -- I mean, they can suggest, but they have no legal capacity to tell the United States to do anything under this treaty. Nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's not just Democrats saying that. In a moment you will hear from a Republican who says the exact same thing. Former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh. But the big question we have been trying to figure out is why. Why the flip-flopping and the no voting based on as far as we can tell, a boatload of misinformation. Well, it turns out it could be because some powerful conservative groups lobbied hard against it. And like Santorum, they claimed the treaty threatened U.S. sovereignty, claimed being the operative word. The heritage foundation also claimed the U.N. treaty would leave the door open for abortion advocates. The home school legal defense association rallied parents claiming the treaty was a threat to home schooling in the United States. Again, just claims, no actual facts. Here's democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware on that last home school threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: They have succeed in scaring the parents who home school their children all over this country. My own office has gotten dozens of calls and letters demanding that I vote against this convention. As a matter of international law and as a matter of U.S. law, this convention does nothing. Does nothing to change the home schooling of children in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, he gave that speech on the Senate floor just before the vote. Senator Mike Lee of Utah was one of the 38 Republicans who voted against the U.N. treaty. He agreed to talk to us tonight. He's a constitutional lawyer, was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Alito. We spoke a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator, you've said this treaty will somehow change U.S. law or could change U.S. law. Former Republican attorney general Dick Thornburgh, who helped negotiate this treaty on behalf of President George Bush said emphatically it would have no effect on U.S. law, not now, not ever. Is he wrong?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Well, I respectfully disagree with the former attorney general's conclusions. I look at the treaty and I see one provision that arguably sets in place international entitlement rights, another provision that can be read to undermine the rights of parents to make decisions on how best to educate and otherwise care for their children with disabilities. And another provision of the treaty that can be read to obligate the United States government to pay for abortion services.

COOPER: You're just interpreting things. It never uses the word abortion, it basically says that disabled people should have the same access to health care that other people have, non-disabled people have overseas, again, we're talking about overseas.

LEE: It does refer to reproductive rights and reproductive rights in this context has been interpreted to include abortion, and this is --

COOPER: Interpreted by you.

LEE: -- an interpretation -- yes, and a number of other people who looked at it as well. So, the point is that if this does mean something, and if it could mean something that could impact U.S. law.

COOPER: But this treaty states it's not self-executing. And the U.S. Supreme Court has said that a non-self executing treaty doesn't create obligations that could be enforced in U.S. federal courts.

LEE: The fact that it may be non-self executing, Anderson, doesn't mean that it doesn't have any impact at all. It just means that you might not be able to bring a lawsuit arising under that treaty.

COOPER: But it doesn't become the law of the U.S.

LEE: Actually, it does. "Article 6" of the U.S. constitution says any treaty ratified by a two-thirds super majority of the Senate does become the supreme law of the land. And so, this could come up in litigation and although you couldn't have a cause of action arising directly under this treaty, it could come up and it could have an impact on the court's interpretation of U.S. law.

COOPER: Can you name --

LEE: It can become part of U.S. law.

COOPER: Can you name any other U.N. treaty that has forced changes in U.S. law?

LEE: I didn't come prepared to cite Supreme Court precedent on this point, but it's a --

COOPER: What you're saying is totally hypothetical. You're using a bunch of hypotheticals saying they're going to -- this is going to force abortion rights for people, for example, people overseas, this is -- some groups are saying children with glasses are going to be taken from their parents. You're using all these very scary hypotheticals, you can't even cite one case where a U.N. treaty has ever impacted U.S. law?

LEE: I'm not aware of one person who is saying children with glasses are going to be taken away from their parents. "The article 7" concern from the treaty relates to the fact that the best interests of the child standard will be injected into decisions, regarding how best to educate and otherwise care for a disabled child.

COOPER: Again, you can't name one U.N. treaty that has ever had an impact on U.S. law.

LEE: Well, I can't name one U.S. treaty that has been the deciding factor in a decision. It may well happen. I didn't come prepared to cite Supreme Court precedent to you today.

COOPER: I know. But you have been on the floor of the Senate arguing vigorously against this and you've had, you know, weeks and weeks to prepare on this. It just seems to be basing your decision on complete hypotheticals when there has never been a case that you can cite of a U.N. treaty, again, this is a U.N. treaty, affecting U.S. law.

LEE: OK. Look, the fact that it may not have happened in exactly the way that you describe it doesn't mean that it couldn't happen.

COOPER: U.S. law already has the Americans with disabilities act. But that law is not recognized in multiple countries overseas and this is a treaty which is trying to basically just raise standards in other countries overseas. It's basically just trying to encourage, you know, the better treatment of disabled people around the world.

LEE: Look, U.S. law, including the Americans with disabilities act, already provides the worldwide gold standard on the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. There are lots of ways that we can promote and encourage other countries to do this without agreeing to an international convention that would be administered and overseen by a U.N. body sitting in Geneva, Switzerland.

COOPER: SO, by that argument you really don't support any kind of U.N. treaties because you're saying the whole idea of U.N. treaties that countries sign on to, you don't like that idea at all? LEE: Typically, Anderson, we use treaties to deal with international relations, to deal with the law of nations acting on the world scene. This deals with a lot of issues that are distinctively domestic in nature.

COOPER: There are those who say that your objection to this and the objection of many groups has more to do with basically a dislike of the U.N. and any kind of thing that comes out of the U.N.. And you sort of painted this picture that U.N. bureaucrats in Geneva are going to be telling parents in Utah how to raise their disabled child. But is there any case that you can cite where U.N. bureaucrats in Geneva have been able to tell American parents how to do anything, or American citizens how to do anything?

LEE: No, there's not, Anderson. But the fact that something like that hasn't happened, the fact that they haven't succeed in telling people how to live their lives from a perch in the U.N. office doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about it here.

COOPER: I'm just trying to look for facts and I just don't see the facts of the concerns that have been raised. I understand the hypothetical concern. But just based on the history of the U.N., it's been around for a long time. I would think if this was the internationalization of laws and U.S. having to sort of kowtow to U.N. law, I think it would have happened in some case. I just don't see it.

LEE: Well, You can't assume that because something hasn't happened already that it couldn't happen in the future. And it doesn't render it a hypothetical concern simply because it hasn't arisen to this level up to this point. We do need to be concerned about the direction in which our law moves, and that's what's motivating my concerns here.

COOPER: Senator Lee, I appreciate your time and perspective. Thank you very much.

LEE: Thanks, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: By the way, Senator Lee said he didn't hear anybody raising concern about children with eyeglasses being taken away from their parents under this U.N. treaty. Actually, somebody did make that claim. His name is Michael Farris. He's with the home school legal defense association, one of the groups that lobbied hard against this treaty. Here's what he said in a radio interview for the American family association.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL FARRIS, HOME SCHOOL LEGAL DEFENSE ASSOCIATION: The definition of disability is not defined in the treaty and so my kid wears glasses. Now the U.N. gets control over them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: The idea the treaty would give the U.N. vast control over American children's lives and take away kids with glasses from their parents is just factually incorrect. Just not true.

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