On a vote that fell largely along party lines, the House of Representatives has approved a GOP measure reauthorizing the expired Violence Against Women Act — the latest issue that was once the subject of broad bipartisan agreement in Washington to fall victim to election year politics.
The House bill passed on a 222 to 205 vote. Democrats opposed the Republican bill because they said it was too narrow. They said it should have included language barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in grant programs funded through the 18-year-old program and provisions expanding visas offered to illegal immigrants who assist in the prosecution of their abusers.
A bill approved by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 31 vote last month included that language, and Democrats argued the House should pass the Senate version.
But Republicans said gay rights and immigrant issues were divisive distractions unnecessary to a bill designed to streamline and consolidate grant programs that provide support for local law enforcement and social services to help women victims of domestic and sexual violence.
“As we look to reauthorize VAWA, we want to make sure that we’re not politicizing this issue but just reauthorizing it,” said Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), the measure’s chief Republican sponsor. “Look at the bill and what it is in it, you’ll see that it’s etenered around our victims.
Though Republicans had made changes to the bill to address some concerns of women’s groups, the National Organization of Women and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence had urged the House to reject it in favor of the Senate version.
Senate Democrats pushed reauthorization of the act, which expired in September, to highlight what they believe is Republican obstruction on issues of particular concern to women. Senate Republicans urged changes to the Democrats’ bill but ultimately 14 backed the measure.
Feeling pressured not to appear to block the broadly popular program, House Republicans unveiled their own competing version. It was pressed by Republican women, including Adams, a former law enforcement officer with a compeling personal story of surviving domestic violence.
It is not clear whether the two versions can be reconciled before the November election or if the competing legislation will now be used as a rhetorical weapon by both parties.