The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon to pass legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with expanded protections for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who suffer from domestic abuse.
The final vote was 78-22. All Democrats and 23 Republicans voted for final passage. The bill now heads to the House, where GOP leaders are resisting some of its provisions.
“Today the Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act,” President Obama said in a statement. “The bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us. I want to thank Senator Leahy and his colleagues from both sides of the aisle for the leadership they have shown on behalf of victims of abuse. It’s now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.”
The 22 Republicans who voted against it were Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Tom Coburn (OK), John Cornyn (TX), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), James Inhofe (OK), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Tim Scott (SC), Jeff Sessions (AL) and John Thune (SD).
The Senate rejected Republican-sponsored amendments to replace the bill with a scaled-back reauthorization and to eliminate a provision permitting Native American courts to try non-Native Americans accused of domestic abuse on tribal lands, which many Republicans say is unconstitutional because it would limit recourse for the accused in U.S. courts.
“Unfortunately, I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences,” Rubio said in a statement, voicing concerns with the makeup of funding for some of the VAWA programs. “Additionally, I have concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons in Indian country, including non-Indians.”
The legislation also adopted an amendment by VAWA’s chief sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), providing law enforcement more tools to combat human trafficking (by a 93-5 vote), and another by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to make sure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible to receive grant assistance (by a 100-0 vote).
VAWA expired in 2011 but has continued to receive funding through the appropriations process. Last authorized in 2005, law enforcement believes it needs to be streamlined. Last year the reauthroization fell prey to House Republican resistance to the expanded provisions. The broad, bipartisan passage of the reauthorization through the Senate now increases the pressure on House GOP leaders to act.
Republican leaders are again facing pressure from within their ranks to act. A letter sent Monday night and signed by 17 House GOP lawmakers nudges Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the Senate’s direction, twice calling for a bipartisan bill. The House GOP’s version last year passed on a party-line vote.
“Now is the time to seek bipartisan compromise on the reauthorization of these programs. … We believe a bipartisan plan to reauthorize VAWA is more important than ever,” wrote Republican Reps. Rodney Davis (IL), Charlie Dent (PA), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Chris Gibson (NY), Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), David Joyce (OH), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Patrick Meehan (PA), Shelly Moore-Capito (WV), Tom Reed (NY), Dave Reichert (WA), Jon Runyan (NJ) and Lee Terry (NE).
After the vote, Leahy and other key Democratic senators called on House Republicans to move speedily on the legislation. They said they’re proud to have held their ground on LGBT, immigrant and tribal provisions, saying all victims should be treated equally.
Although House Republicans dislike provisions covering LGBT and illegal-immigrant victims, their primary area of discomfort with the Senate bill is the tribal lands provision. Senior House GOP aides declined to comment, but top Republicans, led by Cantor, are leaning toward a middle path that provides legal recourse for those charged with domestic abuse in Native American courts by allowing them to appeal to U.S. courts.
Leahy declined to speculate on whether that compromise would be acceptable, saying the House should pass its legislation and the two chambers can then resolve their differences.
“[J]ust like last Congress, we all know it will take leadership from Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor to move this bill forward,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told TPM. “The fate of VAWA still lies squarely on their shoulders and too many women have been left vulnerable while they have played politics.”
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.