Senate poised to renew Violence Against Women Act; House remains a hurdle
The Violence Against Women Act has been locked in partisan gridlock for months, with expiration looming in September. Tuesday, there appeared to be movement with a Republican Senate leader agreeing to a short-term deal. But whether the bill, or any bill like it, can get past the House of Representatives remains to be seen.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, after a political split led to lengthy delays.
Since 1994, the measure has increased criminal penalties against perpetrators of and provided funding to fight domestic violence and sexual assault. The act is set to expire in September. Congress has re-authorized it twice previously, both times with unanimous Senate support.
But, this year, an election year, the Violence Against Women Act has been embroiled in partisan politics.
Gail Chaddock, reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, said Republicans took exception to some new elements added to the bill this year, particular an increase in the number of visas available to victims of domestic violence who came to the United States illegally. It also prohibited discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals who are victims of domestic violence.
It also gave increase authority to Native American tribes.
"For some Republicans, this was just too much. They saw it as a sort of trojan horse for expanding immigration laws, or healthcare laws. Once you have a visa, you're also eligible for new healthcare provisions," Chaddock said.
Chaddock said if Republicans continued to fight the bill, they ran the risk of reinforcing the idea that they're fighting a "war on women" — a political point President Barack Obama keeps driving home.
"The president needs women's votes. He needs a double-digit advantage, and he has that right now," Chaddock said. "Republicans are making a kind of counter here."
On Tuesday, Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell made a short-term agreement on renewal, but the GOP also also introduced an alternative bill that would reduce the number of visas available for immigrant victims of domestic violence, while providing more money for stopping sexual assault and doubling the sentence for rape.
"There will be a debate. Both bills will be debated and the Violence Against Women bill will pass," Chaddock said. "There is no way this will be fillibustered at this point. It has 61 votes, 61 supporters."
She doesn't think the Republican alternative will be able to pass. But the real question remains in the House, where Republicans hold a majority. Chaddock said she's heard Republican women are going to speak on this issue this week and present a proposal of their own.
"I think it's going to be really challenging in the House," she said of the bill's renewal.
But ultimately, Chaddock said, Congressional leaders will have to come up with something palatable enough to both sides, in order to achieve results.
"They don't want to preside over gridlock," she said.
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