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Violence Against Women Act's Future Remains Uncertain

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner’s move signals that the GOP would like to wrap up this women’s issue as the elections draw near because Democrats have used it for political purposes.

Democrats now face a variety of paths forward, but many of them would require trust in or cooperation from the Republicans, and Senate leaders might just decide that they’re better off waiting until the lame-duck session instead of making further concessions on a bill for which they once had GOP support.

Senate Democrats could agree to move forward to the conference without approving a bill that complies with the “blue-slip” rule, but they automatically would be conceding the provisions regarding undocumented women by doing so. They could try to formally reopen debate on the bill using the same language but attached to a House shell, but that would require Republicans to vote the same way as they did in April. And GOP leaders might not be willing to go along with Democrats for the second time, especially now that they’re three months closer to the elections.

Alternatively, Democrats could continue to leverage the issue against Republicans, hoping that it secures them more independent female voters in November. They scoffed at Boehner’s appointments Monday.

“Republicans blocked a conference when Sen. Reid tried to set one up in May, causing VAWA to languish for months. Appointing conferees at this point is simply another transparent delaying tactic by Republicans,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said. “The main difference between the House and Senate versions is that the Senate version is overwhelmingly bipartisan. If Republicans truly want to resolve this issue, they will pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise right away.”

Democratic sources suggested that a barrage of press releases and media availabilities have put pressure on the Republicans and that Boehner’s selection Monday of conferees was an indication their tactics have been working.

Boehner announced that Reps. Sandy Adams (Fla.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Trey Gowdy (S.C.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) will represent the House in the talks.

All of those Members voted for the House-approved legislation.

It’s unclear exactly how Democrats will proceed or when they’ll make a decision, but when McConnell objected to the conference in May, he said, “This is a problem of the majority’s own making.

“It is not our fault that Senate Democrats waited until well after VAWA expired to start moving a bill,” McConnell said on the floor. “It is not our fault that their bill would add to the debt. And it is not our fault that our friends waited until the last minute to try to fix this problem, and in the course of doing so, they created another problem.”

Perhaps the largest questions are whether either side can score points over procedural squabbles or whether in the broader context of an election focused heavily on jobs and the economy, it will even matter.

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