Senate Democrats are rebuffing House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) push for bicameral negotiations to finalize the Violence Against Women Act, exercising their clout to demand the House pass their expanded bipartisan version.
On Monday, Boehner appointed eight members to an unformed conference committee: Reps. Sandy Adams (R-FL), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Nan Hayworth (R-NY), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).
A senior Senate Democratic aide dismissed Boehner’s move.
“This shows that Boehner is clearly feeling the heat from women’s groups after having passed a bill that leaves millions of women in the LGBT, tribal, and immigration communities out. He is in an unsustainable spot and Democrats know it,” the aide said. “Moving forward means House Republicans dropping their opposition to including these groups in a final bill.”
The office of Sen. Patty Murray (WA), a Democratic leadership member and point person on the issue, referred TPM to comments she made last week refusing to pare back the bill. “There is no reason to have to go to conference,” she told reporters.
The traditionally noncontroversial legislation to re-authorize funding for law enforcement to combat domestic violence has been in limbo for months. On a 68-31 vote late April, the Senate passed an expanded version to cover same sex couples, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. House Republicans responded by passing a scaled-back version on a party line vote, which also makes it harder for abused undocumented victims to gain legal status.
Boehner has sought to gain leverage since then by labeling the Senate bill invalid on the grounds that it includes a revenue-raising mechanism, something the Constitution says must originate in the House. Democrats call it a procedural hurdle that can easily be overcome.
“Completing work on legislation to renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act is critical in our efforts to combat domestic violence and sexual assault,” Boehner said in his Monday statement. “The law has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers, and I’m announcing our negotiators today in the hopes that we can begin to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills. The House is ready and willing to begin those discussions, and I would urge Senate Democrats to come to the table so this critical legislation can be sent to the president for his signature as soon as possible.”
For now at least, Democrats aren’t having any of it. Fresh off their hard-won Senate victory on the Bush-era tax cuts, and 100 days out from Election Day, Democrats are displaying a fortitude rarely seen since they last came to power.
On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden, the original sponsor of VAWA in 1994, published an op-ed in McClatchy criticizing the GOP’s scaled-back re-authorization and calling on House Republicans to accept the Senate legislation.
“Congress should pass the bipartisan version approved by the U.S. Senate,” he wrote.
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.