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Will GOP Opposition To Violence Against Women Act Renewal Soften After Election?

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House Republicans oppose the Senate-passed Violence Against Woment Act reauthorization. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) | Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Republicans across the country were dealt a series of defeats by a broad coalition, powered by women and Latinos, that has led to a round of soul-searching within the party. Several House and Senate candidates lost pivotal races after making offensive comments about rape. In four states, voters endorsed, for the first time, rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, by voting to support marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

Now, back on Capitol Hill, Republicans are left to deal with a bill backed by women, the LGBT community and immigrant-rights advocates -- the very coalition that beat them at the polls last week. Congress is divided over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with House Republicans blocking its passage over provisions to protect undocumented immigrants and members of the LGBT community who may find themselves victims of sexual or other physical assaults.

The election has a few Republicans rethinking their opposition.

"I favor the Senate version," said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who voted against the Senate version.

"I personally think that's something we should address," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who also voted against the Senate bill. "I like the idea. There is too much violence against women and children in this country, a lot of it unanswered."

The Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act reauthorization extends the 1994 law for four years and adds new protections. It would increase the number of visas available to victims of domestic violence who are undocumented immigrants; ban discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence and give more authority to Native American tribes to address domestic violence.

The House version, which passed with considerably less bipartisan support, does not have the new protections. It was modeled after the GOP alternative legislation that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) introduced in the Senate, which failed. Ultimately, Hutchison voted for the bipartisan Senate bill, which was introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

"I think people are beginning to look for ways that we can get things done, and there are some really good things in there," said Hutchison in some post-election optimism. "I'd love to work on it, and I think there's a good chance if the House is ready to work."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was a cosponsor of the original 1994 Violence Against Women Act, along with then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). Hatch stood by his opposition to the latest legislation, saying Democrats had politicized the whole process.

"It was the Biden-Hatch bill," said Hatch. "I think if they called it the Biden-Hatch bill, we'd all vote for it. They tried to politicize it, and that irritated the heck out of me, after I took all kinds of abuse for being the prime sponsor and helping to write the original bill, and then they come up and politicize it. ... These are the kinds of things that drive me nuts about the Democrats."

He said if Democrats agreed to take out all the new protections, he believes the bill would easily pass both chambers of Congress.

"They want us to work with them, and yet they'll turn right around, and change a program that's working very very well, just for political reasons. That's just ridiculous," he added.

On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent out a statement calling on the House to give in.

“Domestic violence protections for all women shouldn’t be a Democratic or a Republican issue," Murray said. "A six-month delay is inexcusable. One day is inexcusable. As we enter the final days of this Congress, it is time for House Republicans to look beyond ideology and partisan politics. Their obstruction is taking a toll on women across this country."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a supporter of the Senate bill, said she also wants to see the House pass the Senate version.

"I've already said that the Senate bill should be the bill that moves forward," said Murkowski.

House Republicans refuse to go along with this course. House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, said the GOP caucus has named conferees to hammer out compromise legislation with the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is opposed to this approach.

"Our folks don’t feel like there is anything to conference," said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. "We are not going to limit the bill’s protections for LGBT communities and we are not going to take out provisions that law enforcement has asked us to add in order to help them combat domestic abuse."

And with Congress focused on budget issues, the legislation doesn't seem like it's going anywhere anytime soon.

"I think you have to prioritize what's important right now," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), pointing to the so-called "fiscal cliff."

"I haven't thought about that in 60 or 90 days," added Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

That's not stopping advocacy groups from continuing to lean on Congress, with a "day of action" on Wednesday led by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.

“We saw the power of women’s voices and votes in the election last week –- and women want the Violence Against Women Act," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "VAWA's improvements have bipartisan support in the Senate. We are asking the House to concur in these modest, but much needed changes that can mean the difference between life and death."

The Violence Against Women Act expired 679 days ago, and it has been 183 days since Congress took any action on the reauthorization.

CORRECTION: This article has been revised to correct Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo's state and House Speaker John Boehner's title. An earlier version stated incorrectly that Crapo represents Indiana and that Boehner is the House majority leader.

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