Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., announced Thursday that he has built a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority to advance the Violence Against Women Act — an 18-year-old measure protecting domestically abused Americans that lapsed at the end of last Congress when lawmakers failed to approve its reauthorization.
The pending legislation would be a five-year extension of the act and would expand protections for gay and lesbian victims as well as American Indians.
“JUST TOPPED ‘magic number’ of 60 bipartisan cosponsors of my #VAWA legisl.; We’re moving briskly toward Senate vote on the Leahy-Crapo Bill,” the 72-year-old senator’s office wrote on Twitter.
Democrats made tweaks to the bill from last Congress, eliminating a provision that would have expanded an emergency visa program for immigrant victims of abuse. The measure was included in the bill passed last Congress by the Senate; however, because it contained a revenue-generating provision, it was technically unconstitutional. House Republicans would not agree to helping Senate Democrats keep the measure, as it was one of several provisions they did not support. Democrats believe they can expand the program when the Senate takes up immigration revisions, which the Judiciary Committee will also oversee, though passage of a comprehensive immigration bill is less likely than the VAWA reauthorization.
Other areas of conflict between the House and Senate centered on a provision in the Senate bill that would allow tribal courts to prosecute citizen abusers when the victims are American Indians. The new bill still includes this measure, and it’s unclear how House Republicans will proceed. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had engaged in some last-minute negotiating with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the end of last year, but those talks proved unfruitful.
Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., had introduced compromise language in 2012 on the tribal issue, but it did not enjoy full GOP Conference support.
The timing of a full Senate vote on the streamlined bill is not immediately clear. Leahy said in a hearing Wednesday that he expects a vote in the next few weeks, but the chairman is also very busy with other issues. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called for a formal committee process on an immigration overhaul and gun control, both of which fall under Judiciary’s purview.
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.