Violence Against Women Act: Bipartisanship Will Help Renew VAWA

The Senate is currently debating the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired in 2011, and for which Congress has failed to come up with an acceptable replacement.

The failure to renew the law was used as fodder for Democrats during the elections, blaming conservative Congressmen for this failure and characterizing Republicans as neglectful toward women’s interests. The Senate is expected to vote on the renewal of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) either late Thursday or Friday.

While the legislation is poised to pass easily with broad support in the Senate, there are more questions about how the law will fare in the House, as last year similar legislation to renew the Act passed through the Senate but stalled in the House due to an inability to reconcile partisan differences. Republicans take issue with various aspects of the law, including the new provisions for protection of homosexuals, immigrants, and American Indian women on reservations. Despite these obstacles to the law’s passage, there are a lot of signs that show hope for bipartisan support of the VAWA’s renewal in the House.

The legislation being debated today is largely the same as the legislation that attempted to renew the law last year, however, it takes out the controversial provision that immigrant victims of domestic violence will be granted extended visas, showing a step towards bipartisan compromise on the law.

Following the elections and the electoral blowout with women, Republicans seem eager to redeem themselves in the eyes of the public and pass the legislation. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) notes the damages of making this a partisan issue, asserting that “this is an equal-opportunity crime that harms people regardless of their political affiliation, their profession or their status in life.” 

Retired Republican Congressman Steven C. LaTourette echoes these sentiments, noting thevalue of the bipartisan support for this bill since “the public only sees the headline, and the headline says, ‘Republicans clocking a bill called violence against women.’”

However, some Republicans like Douglas Heyes, spokesman for House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) assert that it is the Democrats that have stalled this issue by “using it as a political issue against Republicans [rather] than finding a solution to the issues.”

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, Cantor met with Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.) in order to compromise on a big issue for Cantor and other Tea Party Republicans: a provision in the legislation that allows American Indian women assaulted by non-Indians to charge the assailants in tribal courts, which do not have jurisdiction over people who are not residents of the reservations.

Moreover, Cantor has made it clear that renewal of the law is a priority for the House.  Michael Steele, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Okla.) echoed these sentiments, stating that they will “continue to work to find the best way to protect women and prosecute offenders.” This shows hope that Republicans are working hard to find a common ground in which to pass the renewal of this law with broad, bipartisan support, despite the obstacles it faces in the House of Representatives.

The passage of the bill in the Senate itself with the expected broad bi-partisan support will send a message to the House that, as Senator Kay Hagen (D-N.C.) says, will send a clear message that “anything short of passage is unacceptable.”

Compounded with the various measures House Republican leaders have taken to find compromise on this issue and their stated commitment to the prevention of the battering of women, and the other political incentives for the Republican party to appeal to female voters, there is hope for passage of the Senate revision of the law in the House.

Legislators on both sides have asserted the importance of this issue goes beyond partisan politics, and by taking that first step, Congress has put itself on the path to renewing the Violence Against Women Act.

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