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Democrats and the White House are intensifying their push to expand the Violence Against Women Act this week, giving them a chance to flip the narrative on women’s issues that went awry for the party last week.
Despite strong poll numbers showing female voters favoring President Barack Obama over presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by double digits, the White House found itself on defense after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said last week that would-be first lady and stay-at-home mom Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life.”
The looming fight over the Violence Against Women Act gives Democrats a chance to refocus on women’s policy issues, where they believe they have an upper hand against Romney and the GOP that will last through Election Day.
Vice President Joseph Biden, who wrote the original 1994 VAWA, will headline an event pushing for the bill’s reauthorization Wednesday at the White House. Attorney General Eric Holder, top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and other top administration officials and supporters from around the country will also participate.
“The vice president has often said this is the legislative achievement he is most proud of,” a White House official noted. The official added, “I’ve seen women come up to him and whisper, ‘Thank you’” for helping them get out of an abusive situation.
The White House is hoping that an appeal to the bipartisan nature of the bill — eight Republican Senators have signed on so far — and the issue of public safety will get it across the finish line, despite objections from conservatives.
“Everybody wants to protect people’s safety. Once you put it in that context, these things are easier to work out,” the official said, adding that lawmakers are hearing back home on the issue as well.
Biden noted the Violence Against Women Act last week when he was asked about the Rosen remark on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.”
“Whether it’s Violence Against Women Act or equal pay, my entire career as a Senator and as vice president is to get to one point, where my daughter is able to make whatever choice she wants and no one question it. ... If my daughter wants to be able to say, ‘I’m staying home and raising my kids,’ no one should question it,” Biden said.
President Barack Obama also pointed to the bill in remarks he made April 6 at a conference on women at the White House.
“When something like the Violence Against Women Act — a bill Joe Biden authored, a bill that once passed by wide bipartisan margins — is suddenly called to question, that makes no sense. ... That’s not something we should still be arguing about,” Obama said to cheers.
But Senate Republicans opposed the bill in the Judiciary Committee because the new version — which has 61 co-sponsors — expands the bill in several ways, including provisions aimed at protecting gays, lesbians, transgendered people, Native Americans and battered immigrant women.
The GOP is promising an effort on the Senate floor to strip those and other new provisions, with Congressional Quarterly reporting last month that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is taking the lead. The Senate could take up the measure sometime next week.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has sought to downplay the partisan tensions, touting his original co-sponsor, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and his Republican co-sponsors.
“Domestic and sexual violence knows no political party,” Leahy said March 22. Additionally, White House officials denied a political motive for the bill but said Republicans will have difficulty justifying their opposition.
Ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has made it clear that Republicans do not intend to block the bill but want to offer their amendments. Grassley accused Democrats in a statement of “manufacturing another partisan, political crisis.”
If the bill gets through the Senate, as seems likely, there’s no guarantee it will move in the House — at least not without some significant modifications.
House Democrats are keeping up their own offensive on the bill, with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) leading the charge last month with an emotional appeal on the chamber floor.
“Violence against women is as American as apple pie. And I know not only as a legislator who — but from my own personal experience, violence — domestic violence — has been a thread throughout my personal life, up to and including being a child repeatedly sexually assaulted, up to and including being an adult who has been raped.”
Democrats staged a protest vote pushing for consideration of the bill on the House floor, and a Democratic aide said today that there will be more to come.