WASHINGTON -- House Republicans on Wednesday passed their bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, despite protests from the White House, most Democrats and even some Republicans for not doing enough to protect LGBT, Native American and undocumented immigrant women.
The bill passed 221-205 on a largely partisan vote. Six Democrats voted for it and 23 Republicans opposed it. Just two GOP congresswomen voted against it: Reps. Judy Biggert (Ill.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).
The House measure, like the Senate-passed bill, would reauthorize VAWA for another five years. But the Senate version is more comprehensive and House Democrats had been pressing for a vote on that bill instead, to no avail. VAWA is typically reauthorized with broad support and little debate, but in the context of a presidential election year and with the so-called "war on women" taking place, even an issue relating to violence against women has become a charged, partisan fight.
The White House threatened to veto the bill earlier this week, on the grounds that it "rolls back existing law and removes long-standing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault." And just after the House vote, Vice President Joe Biden, an original sponsor of VAWA in 1994, issued a statement trashing the bill.
"The House has passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act that will roll back critical provisions to help victims of abuse. I urge Congress to come together to pass a bipartisan measure that protects all victims. VAWA has been improved each time it's been reauthorized, and this time should be no different," Biden said.
During the House debate, Democrats charged that the GOP bill would actually leave victims of domestic violence worse off than they are under current law. Unlike the Senate bill, the House proposal discourages undocumented immigrant women from reporting abuse without the threat of being deported. It also makes it harder for Native American women to seek justice against their abusers, and it leaves out protections for the LGBT community altogether.
Republicans "rarely miss an opportunity to exclude LGBT Americans from important rights and benefits," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said. "They're saying if you're a woman in a relationship with another woman, then you don't deserve the same protections from domestic abuse or sexual assault."
"It's a shame that this so-called violence against women bill could actually cause violence to women," Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said. "This bill is outright dangerous."
Republicans maintained that their bill cracks down on fraud by making the grant process more accountable and that it honors criminal laws governing Native American reservations. Both the House and Senate bill authorize spending of about $660 million annually for grants to women's shelters and police training relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.
"Republican men and women both abhor violence against women," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said. "I would say that we are more concerned against violence against women ... we want to see the money spent better."
"If you vote against this bill today, you will vote to deny help to millions of victims ... in the name of political gamesmanship," said Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), the bill's sponsor.
But not all Republicans bought into that mindset. Biggert told The Huffington Post ahead of the vote that she planned to oppose the bill because "there were things that were left out" and because it wasn't put together in a bipartisan way.
"I've always worked on this, every time we've reauthorized it," said Biggert, a 14-year lawmaker. "We could have done so much better by doing a bipartisan bill. It's always been bipartisan."
Biggert said GOP leaders asked her to support the bill in an effort to have all of the Republican women backing it, but she said she declined because it left out protections for women in her district.
"I just said, 'I need to do the right thing.' They said they understood. It's who I represent," she said. "I think that the congresswomen had decided that they were going to do this ... as a women's bill. I'm sort of the odd man out."
The bill's passage came despite opposition from more than 320 advocacy groups, including faith-based groups, women's organizations, civil rights groups and domestic violence workers groups. During the debate, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) pressed Adams to name groups that supported her bill.
"Well, Mr. Conyers, I can say I do," Adams said.
"I'm glad to know that," Conyers replied. "I think that just about tells everybody where the logic and the support for this bill is. There is none."
That isn't entirely correct, though: The National Coalition of Men endorsed the bill on Tuesday.