In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Violence Against Women Act's Long Road To Oblivion


The battle began last spring in the Senate. Democrats introduced a re-authorization -- written with input from law enforcement and anti-domestic-violence advocates -- with expanded provisions to protect victims even if they're gay, illegal immigrants or Native Americans living in tribal jurisdictions. Republicans balked, demanding those additions be stripped out and introducing a competing version that omitted them.

But Senate Democrats peeled off enough Republicans for the new provisions. In April, they passed the expanded version by a whopping 68-31 vote, winning over 8 Republicans.

The legislation then moved to the House, where Republican leaders faced pressure to act, but had no intention of supporting the added provisions. So they introduced a scaled-back version that omitted them and made it harder for illegal-immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain legal status under a special category called the U Visa.

Republican leaders deployed their female members to make the case for it, notably Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), a leadership member, and Rep. Sandy Adams (FL), herself a victim of domestic violence. Over the objections of some advocates for abused victims, but with the support of a so-called men's rights group, House GOP leaders passed their version on a partisan vote, despite a White House veto threat.

And that's when the legislation stalled, never to recover.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited the Senate to go to conference to resolve the differences. He also argued that the Senate bill was unconstitutional because it would raise new revenue with visa fees (bills with revenues are supposed to originate in the House, though leaders can dodge that problem if they want to). Republicans also said provisions involving tribal jurisdiction were constitutionally impermissible.

Democrats demanded that the GOP take up the Senate version, comparing its strong bipartisan support with the lack of cross-party appeal for the scaled-back re-authorization, and citing President Obama's veto threat. Boehner stonewalled. The stalemate deepened.

A bipartisan letter authored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the lead author of VAWA, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a co-sponsor, urging Boehner to accept the Senate bill had no impact. Months later, a large House coalition including 10 Republican members pushed him to accept a Senate-like version -- again, to no avail.

In December, there was a glimmer of hope for the measure when Biden, the chief architect of the original VAWA, entered negotiations with Cantor to see if they could resolve the disputes. But that, too, went nowhere.

A top Senate Democratic aide said Cantor refused to budge on the LGBT, undocumented immigrant and especially tribal jurisdiction provisions. A GOP source familiar with the negotiations countered that the vice president showed "good faith" but Senate Democrats kept throwing up "roadblock after roadblock" and showed no interest in compromising.

"The vice president showed good faith, but for Senate Democrats it was 'my way or the highway,'" the GOP source said, pointing to a letter from an anti-domestic-violence group applauding Cantor's efforts to find a solution. "Democrats made clear they were more interested in protecting a political issue than protecting women from domestic violence."

The 112th Congress ended Thursday, and the Violence Against Women Act perished with it. The new Congress now has to start all over. A spokesperson said Leahy was disappointed by the failure of VAWA re-authorization and looks forward to soon reintroducing an "inclusive, bipartisan bill covering vulnerable victims."