Senate Republicans are pressuring Senate Democrats to allow votes on two amendments to a bipartisan bill that aims to reduce violence against women.
“It has been the goal of Senate Republicans to pass the Violence Against Women Act without procedural impediment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a press conference this morning. “We do, however, have a couple of amendments that we think are relevant, that we think are appropriate, and we would like to have votes on those.”
McConnell said the debate on the GOP proposals would be short and the bill could be passed this afternoon.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said that discussions on an amendment agreement are ongoing. The measure is expected to clear the Senate this afternoon if an agreement is reached.
But with 61 co-sponsors, including eight Republicans, Democrats may not be inclined to allow any amendments.
Given the purpose of the bill — to protect women from violence — neither Republicans nor Democrats want to be accused of blocking the bill’s passage. But with the election just more than six months away, both parties have accused the other of using the bill for political gain with female voters.
“My message is that this should not be a partisan issue,” said Sen. John Cornyn, who is sponsoring one of the amendments Republicans want to offer. “It cheapens this important piece of legislation if it were to digress in to partisanship. That is my hope, that we can not take the low road; we would take the high road in a bipartisan way.”
Cornyn’s amendment would help address the massive backlog of untested rape kits and toughen sentencing for some of the worst sex offenders who commit crimes against women and children. The proposal is endorsed by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and the National Association to Protect Children. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is also a co-sponsor.
But Democrats said that while the amendment has good intentions, its provision to set up mandatory minimums for crimes against women would chill reporting of domestic violence.
“That is what we have been told by law enforcement,” a Senate Democratic aide said.
The aide also said that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has a stand-alone bill that would also strengthen sentencing, which he plans to mark up.
Holding a vote on the amendment “muddies the process,” the aide said.
The other amendment the GOP wants to offer is a substitute from Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) that would address GOP concerns with the bill.
Republicans have issues with provisions in the bill that would specifically extend protections of Native Americans, illegal immigrants and lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.
Republicans argued that there is no need to include the specifications in the bill because the victims’ services provided in the bill are for everyone.
But Democrats contend that while the bill is meant to exclude no one, in practice these groups do get excluded.
The traditionally bipartisan bill was first signed into law in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA supports specialized law enforcement units to investigate domestic violence crimes. Since the passage of the act, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent, according to supporters.
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.