After effectively stonewalling the once bipartisan Violence Against Women Act in the last Congress, House Republicans are at it again.
On Friday, the GOP countered a Senate version of VAWA that passed through the upper chamber with bipartisan support last week with their own less inclusive bill that continues to block protections for LGBT domestic violence victims, American Indians, and undocumented immigrants.
Coverage for gay and lesbian domestic violence victims is never mentioned in the bill. The House version essentially makes it harder for illegal immigrants who were abused to reach legal status, and makes it easier for non-American Indians who are charged with abusing American Indian women on tribal land to get their cases excused from tribal courts. It says it will expand assistance to “adult and youth victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” You can read the entire text of the bill here and its official section-by-section summary text here.
The House bill was written to “protect all women from acts of violence and help law enforcement prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law,” Megan Whittemore, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, told Talking Points Memo. Cantor helped craft the bill.
The Senate bill passed last week with bipartisan support in a vote of 78-22. Every Republican and Democratic woman in the Senate voted in favor of its passage.
VAWA was first passed in 1994 but expired in 2011. Vice President Joe Biden, then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped author the original legislation. The bill provides funding to aid and counsel victims of domestic violence while implementing stronger penalties for their abusers. Some of its components included maintaining that a woman’s past sexual history cannot be used against her in a trial of her abuser and that women shouldn’t be forced to pay for their own protection or rape exam.
One of the authors of the Senate bill, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, issued a strong statement condemning the House version, saying, “This is simply unacceptable and it further demonstrates that Republicans in the House have not heard the message sent by the American people and reflected in the Senate’s overwhelming vote earlier this month to pass the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill.”
Other prominent senators were also quick to blast the bill. “It’s not a compromise, it’s an unfortunate effort to exclude specific groups of women from receiving basic protections under the law. And we cannot allow that to happen,” said VAWA advocate Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement. “House Republican leadership just doesn’t get it.”
President Obama recently pleaded with Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act in his State of the Union address, saying, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same.”
Seventeen Republican representatives recently signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, expressing support for a bipartisan solution to the legislation.
The Senate version includes $659 million in assistance over five years, a number actually down 17% from the last time the bill was reauthorized in 2005.
In her “Open Letter” Saturday, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry addressed Republican Rep. John Duncan of Tennessee, who was recently quoted as saying, “Like most men, I’m more opposed to violence against women than even violence against men because most men can handle it a little better than a lot of women can.”
“Is it that lesbians and gay men can just a take punch better than straight women? Or maybe you’ve decided that Native American women are particularly good at handling intimate violence because you and the other House Republicans still refuse to support a bill that gives tribal authorities the ability to prosecute those who commit acts of violence on tribal lands. Maybe your refusal to reauthorize VAWA is actually based on a belief that when some people are abused it’s just not a big deal because they can handle it.”
The House version of the bill is scheduled to come up in the Rules Committee this Tuesday.