With a vote in the House scheduled Wednesday on the Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans are taking steps to ease the political blowback they have been getting on the issue, but Democrats and advocacy groups fret that the new proposals from the House GOP would still be a step backward.
The weeks-long skirmish over the VAWA, which has already passed the Senate, is a high-stakes battle for women voters in an election, as Democrats seek to hold their sizable polling advantage with women and Republicans try to blunt that edge.
Late Tuesday, the White House threatened to veto the House GOP’s version, warning that it would “undermine the core principles” of the act.
The heart of the dispute is that Democrats want to expand coverage on college campuses and apply protections to Native Americans, the LGBT community and illegal immigrants. The Senate-passed bill includes those provisions. The GOP version excludes them and also narrows avenues for abused undocumented victims to seek legal status.
“These proposals senselessly remove existing legal protections, undermine VAWA’s core purpose of protecting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, frustrate important law enforcement objectives, and jeopardize victims by placing them directly in harm’s way,” the White House said in its veto threat.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote on her web site, “House Republicans have again decided to pursue a partisan, ideological agenda at the expense of the safety of America’s women, children and families.” Top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett piled on in a Huffington Post op-ed Wednesday, warning that the bill “would leave more women at risk.”
Republicans, sensitive to being portrayed as anti-women as election day approaches, have prepared an amendments package designed to address the criticisms, reportedly after seeking advice from women’s groups.
“The House’s re-authorization of VAWA ensures that law enforcement officials and prosecutors have the tools they need in order to investigate crimes and arrest and prosecute perpetrators,” a spokesperson for Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the legislation, told TPM when asked about the concerns. “Part of preventing domestic violence is ensuring that offenders don’t have the opportunity to enter into violent acts in the future.”
“[U]nless it can be amended to restore important protections, NOW will consider a vote for the bill to be a vote against VAWA,” said the National Organization For Women in an action alert calling on members to mobilize against the bill. “Adams bill is racially exclusionary and puts survivors at risk.”
The National Network To End Domestic Violence called parts of the bill “extremely dangerous.”
The dispute over tribal jurisdiction is particularly heated, as Republicans argue the Democratic-backed provisions are unconstitutional while women’s advocates and anti-domestic violence organizations insist that they’re important and can be enforced in adherence to the Constitution.
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.