In their ongoing push to close the gender gap, Republicans are dispatching their 2008 presidential nominee to blunt the accusation that they’re waging a “war on women.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) lit into his Democratic colleagues Thursday for lobbing the charge, calling it “imaginary” and “phony.”
“My friends, this supposed ‘war on women’ or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect,” McCain said on the Senate floor, according to prepared remarks. “The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television.”
The GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee accused Democrats of “ludicrous, partisan posturing that has conjured up this imaginary war.” He said the women’s issues have been “misappropriated for the purpose of partisan advantage, which has the perverse effect, of course, of dividing the country in the name of greater fairness and unity.”
McCain admitted last month that his party has a problem. Asked last month on NBC’s “Meet The Press” whether “there is something of a war on women among Republicans,” he responded, “I think we have to fix that.” He added that that Republicans “ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives.”
The context here is important: Republicans are eager to close a huge Democratic advantage among female voters ahead of a presidential election. The two parties are are now jousting over dueling versions of the Violence Against Women Act — both sides want to re-authorize the measure but Democrats want to expand it to cover same-sex couples, undocumented immigrants and Native American women.
Republican are aiming to close the gap by backing off some policies that have turned off women voters, such as their push to limit women’s access to contraception, and to not be seen opposing Democratic-led measures that could exacerbate their disadvantage. Apart from that, they’re suggesting that the whole notion of an anti-women push was never real.
“Divisive slogans and the declaring of phony wars is intended to avoid those hard choices and to escape paying a political price for doing so,” McCain said.
During a call with reporters Thursday, President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett called on Congress to “act swiftly” to “not only re-authorize, but also strengthen” VAWA. She said the Democrats’ version “builds on what we know today” and defended its expansion to cover tribal women, whom she said are disproportionately victims of abuse and seldom receive justice.
Jarrett declined to say whether Obama would veto the bill if the House GOP’s non-expanded version were to arrive at his desk. “We believe that no one should suffer from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.