Keying up what could become the next chapter in a weeks-long fight over women’s rights, six Democratic women senators — and one of their Republican female colleagues — urged colleagues Thursday to quickly reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
The landmark 1994 measure is up for renewal this year and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he expects to hold a vote in the coming weeks. Democrats see the debate over the bill and potential amendments as an opening to continue accusing Republicans of “waging war” on women’s rights. In recent weeks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has used the issue — and the 11 Democratic women running in Senate races this year — to raise money from supporters.
The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last month on a party-line vote after Republicans opposed new elements of the legislation that provide protections to immigrants and same-sex couples and raised concerns about accounting for the effectiveness of federal grants it authorizes.
Republicans hope to introduce amendments to the law and some of the seven women who spoke Thursday said they would welcome those proposals.
“This one shouldn’t be about politics. Protecting women against violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
But Democrats are making it a partisan issue, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) charged Thursday.
Responding to reports that Senate Democrats hoped to slow debate on a bipartisan jobs measure and capitalize on the reauthorization of the domestic violence measure, McConnell said Democrats were “manufacturing fights — and 30-second television ads” instead of approving a jobs bill.
“If you’re looking for the reason Congress has a 9 percent approval rating, this is it,” McConnell said.
Indeed, Congress remains deeply unpopular, but women view it more favorably than men. A higher percentage of women approve of congressional Democrats, 39 percent, than Republicans, 26 percent, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. A separate survey by pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff found recently that 51 percent of women favored Democratic control of Congress; only 36 percent wanted to see the Republicans in charge.
On Thursday the seven women urged their colleagues to join them in reauthorizing a law that expanded sentencing guidelines and provides billions of dollars in funding to law enforcement agencies, municipal agencies and nonprofit groups to help the victims of domestic violence.
During a series of speeches by the women, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) directly addressed the concerns regarding immigrants and same-sex couples: “If the victim is in a same-sex relationship, is the violence any less real? Is the danger any less real because you happen to be gay or lesbian? I don’t think so. If a family comes to the country and the husband beats his wife to a bloody pulp, do we say, sorry, you’re illegal you don’t deserve any protection?”
Feinstein added: “When you call the police in America, they come, regardless of who you are.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — one of four GOP cosponsors, but the only one to speak about it publicly Thursday — said she believes the Senate should be primarily focused on economic issues but that she hopes for “an overwhelmingly bipartisan deal” to reauthorize the law.
“This is too important an issue for women and men and families that we not address it,” Murkowski said.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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