House Republicans Plan To Act On VAWA In ‘Coming Weeks’

One day after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with expanded provisions, a top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said House GOP leaders intended to consider their own, yet-to-be unveiled version of the legislation in the coming weeks.

“The House will consider a strong Violence Against Women Act in the coming weeks so we can protect all women from acts of violence while prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law,” Doug Heye, Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, told TPM on Wednesday.

House Republicans, who blocked the Senate’s bipartisan reauthorization of VAWA last year, are under pressure not just from Democrats but Senate Republicans, too, to put this issue behind them, especially after the difficulties Republicans had with women voters in the 2012 elections. Cantor has taken the lead in trying to find a way forward, but House Republicans have yet to introduce a companion bill to what passed the Senate.House Republicans have the same concerns with the Senate bill that derailed the reauthorization last year: expanded provisions aimed at protecting gays, illegal immigrants and Native American women who suffer from domestic abuse. But there has been renewed focus this time around on a provision that grants Native American courts to try those accused of domestic abuse on tribal lands. House conservatives believe that is unconstitutional, and senior Republicans are mulling a compromise that offers the accused an avenue of recourse in U.S. courts.

Asked by TPM if that idea would be acceptable to Democrats, VAWA’s chief sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) demurred, saying the House should pass its bill first.

Until Republican leaders do act, however, Democratic leaders see a politically potent issue and intend to make it as painful for the House majority as possible.

On Wednesday afternoon, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and a host of top Democrats held a press conference aimed at needling House Republican leaders on the issue.

“Last year, the Senate overwhelmingly, in a bipartisan way, passed the Violence Against Women Act. Last night, they did again,” Pelosi said. “Now, we’re calling upon the majority in the House to bring that bill to the floor. Delay is not an option, every moment of delay is harmful to women — a delay when so many women are still forced to suffer in silence in the face of abuse. It’s not an option when women fear for their lives, really — in their own homes, or in the workforce. It’s not an option when the safety of millions of Americans — members of the LGBT community, Native Americans, and immigrants are at stake, particularly with the delay in the House.”

Hoyer, for his part, recalled the broad 78-22 margin by which VAWA passed the Senate and invoked Cantor’s own words committing to act on the bill.

“Majority Leader Cantor said during my colloquy on the floor last week that he cares deeply about women who are victims of violence at risk,” Hoyer said, “and I quote: ‘We need to get them the relief … that this bill has to offer. That’s our priority. We must move and act on this bill.’ I agree with Mr. Cantor. And the House ought to act swiftly, ASAP, to pass the Senate’s version which is supported by law enforcement, civil rights groups, and those who care for victims of domestic violence.”

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