The Violence Against Women Act: It’s a bill whose name alone makes it difficult to oppose. And in the past, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass and reauthorize the bill with little controversy.
In 2005, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) posed for photos as then-President George W. Bush signed the last reauthorization measure into law. The bill had passed the House by a vote of 415-4 and the Senate by unanimous consent.
In contrast, the House television studios Wednesday were a veritable shooting gallery as Democratic lawmakers unloaded on Republicans over differences on the reauthorization bill.
Against the backdrop of the attacks, several House Republicans defected on Wednesday’s 222-205 vote, and the bill faces an uncertain future.
At the center of the rhetorical war was a meta-debate about which party turned the previously feel-good bill into a knock-down, drag-out fight.
“Given that the Senate Democratic leadership has announced the goal of exploiting this issue for partisan gain, not extending the Violence Against Women Act, it’s difficult to see what the next step is,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
But it was mostly Democrats on the attack in a series of press conferences in which they lambasted the House bill.
“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans are trying to politicize this issue,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
The House GOP’s version of the bill is “as chilling and as callous as anything I have seen come before this Congress in modern times,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said.
“Let’s call this bill what it really is: the ‘open season on violence against women act,’” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said.
The attacks were such that Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) felt compelled to declare her opposition to domestic abuse.
“How could they possibly accuse us of not being concerned about violence against women?” Foxx asked. “All Republicans are against violence,” she said, adding that she personally prefers to avoid films with any depictions of violence.
Democrats pointed to three key differences between the House bill and a version passed by the Senate in April.
The Senate bill included provisions offering explicit protection for lesbian, gay and transgender people as well as giving legal authority to American Indian tribes to prosecute domestic violence committed by non-American Indians.
The House bill, meanwhile, put new restrictions on illegal immigrants who report domestic abuse, which Republicans said are designed to prevent immigration fraud but Democrats warn could result in victims failing to report abuse to police.
Standing alongside the Democrats in their attack of the Republican bill were advocacy groups who said the changes in the Senate bill were important reforms to stop an “epidemic” of domestic violence.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.