The conservative grassroots is pushing lawmakers to vote against the Senate’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which has 62 cosponsors and is slated for a final vote early this week.
Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, two well-financed right wing activist groups, are lobbying to scuttle the reauthorization. In short, they lament the expanded provisions, which beefs up funding for local law enforcement to prosecute domestic abusers while expanding coverage to gays, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. They claim VAWA hasn’t proved to be effective and argue that federal funding for law enforcement is both redundant and unconstitutional.
In a blog post, FreedomWorks criticized the cost of the legislation — $660 million — and pointed out that domestic violence is “already illegal in all 50 states.” It added: “Supporters of the VAWA portray women as helpless victims - this is the kind of attitude that is setting women back.”
Heritage Action is scoring VAWA as a “key vote” in determining a lawmaker’s conservative credentials.
Claiming that the reauthorization would expand the definition of domestic violence to include “emotional distress,” Heritage declared that the “expansive and vague language will increase fraud and false allegations, for which there is no legal recourse.”
“Under VAWA, men effectively lose their constitutional rights to due process, presumption of innocence, equal treatment under the law, the right to a fair trial and to confront one’s accusers, the right to bear arms, and all custody/visitation rights,” the group wrote. “It is unprecedented, unnecessary and dangerous.”
FreedomWorks also worried that the legislation would be unfair to men.
“The newest version of the VAWA, S.47, contains very vague and broad definitions of domestic violence,” the organization wrote. “A man that raises his voice at his partner, calls her an offensive name, stalks her, causes her any emotional distress, or simply just annoys her can potentially be prosecuted under the VAWA. Calling your spouse a mean name is not advised or polite, but it isn’t the same thing as violence towards her.”
In response, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (NTF) — a coalition of more than 250 national, tribal and local advocacy organizations — called Heritage’s claims “egregious” and accused it of “misrepresent[ing] the truth.”
NTF documented evidence of VAWA’s success and its constitutionality, and called Heritage Action’s claim of an excessively broad definition for domestic violence “a complete fabrication.” It said: “There is no such change to the definition of ‘domestic violence’ proposed in S.47. The current definition of domestic violence is limited ‘to felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence.’”
The strong opposition from conservative groups may not be enough to scuttle the legislation in the Democratic-run Senate. But it provides context for the bind that House Republican leaders are in. Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said he wants to see VAWA reauthorized but signaled that divisions linger on how to do so.
“VAWA’s programs support state, tribal and local efforts to address the pervasive and insidious crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” NTF wrote in a letter to senators late last week. “These programs have made great progress towards reducing the violence, helping victims to be healthy and feel safe and holding perpetrators accountable. This critical legislation must be reauthorized to ensure a continued response to these crimes.”
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.