Sensing that Democrats have them cornered on an issue central to a key voting bloc, Republicans are choosing to fight fire with fire.
The House GOP unveiled a dueling version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization on Wednesday, setting up a confrontation with Senate Democrats who are poised to pass a measure that would extend the law’s protections to Native Americans, gays and undocumented immigrants.“House Republicans are committed to protecting the true victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a member of House GOP leadership, told reporters at a Capitol press briefing.
The election-year context is crucial. Democrats currently enjoy a huge lead among women voters — an advantage Republicans helped them build by seeking to limit their access to contraception earlier this year. Killing VAWA reauthorization would no doubt widen that lead — and that’s at least part of the reason Senate Democrats want to expand the legislation in ways that are politically perilous for Republicans.
The broader components of the measure — which provide tools to law enforcement to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking — are not controversial. The key difference between the versions is that Democrats want to expand it to cover same-sex couples, undocumented immigrant and tribal communities, which most GOP lawmakers oppose. The Republican version largely extends the 1994 law as it exists today — without helping Democrats energize subsets of their voting base and without forcing Republicans to go to bat for adversarial constituencies.
Republican women accused Democrats of politicizing the issue. “Unfortunately in Congress, there are some who’d like to make this a political play. They’d like to make cheap shots and try to politicize it in an election year,” said Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD). Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) said she hopes that “people will quit trying to make it a partisan issue.”
Democrats see the GOP’s desire to offer an alternative in equally political terms.
“Of course, this is totally about the gender gap they have created due to their attacks on women,” a senior Democratic aide told TPM. “[Their alternative] is transparently political and will be viewed as such by most women.”
Senate Democrats have garnered more than 60 cosponsors for their version — enough to override a Republican filibuster. But at a Wednesday press availability in the Capitol, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) declined to say whether they’d received assurances from their Republican cosponsors that they’d help overcome a GOP filibuster when asked by TPM.
That sets up a number of legislative scenarios. If Senate Republicans successfully filibuster the Democratic reauthorization bill, House Republicans could jam them with their own legislation — which will likely pass the House, with or without Democratic support.
That would help the GOP avoid exacerbating its disadvantage with women voters, but force several individual Republican senators to renege on their stated support, and to filibuster a highly charged piece of legislation. If, on the other hand, the Senate passes the Dems’ bill, the two parties will have to sort out their differences, likely in a House Senate conference committee weeks from now.