WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has several big-ticket items on his agenda this year -- gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform among them -- but he singled out one as his first priority: the Violence Against Women Act.
"The first legislation I plan to move in the new Congress is the Violence Against Women Act," Leahy said Wednesday during remarks at Georgetown University Law Center. "Last year, the Senate passed my bipartisan bill, but House leaders refused to agree to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence and rape. Like so many other worthy efforts, renewing VAWA suffered from obstructionism that has seeped too much into our legislative process."
Congress typically reauthorizes VAWA with broad support, but the legislation expired last year for the first time since its 1994 inception. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill with new protections for the LGBT community, Native Americans and immigrants, and House Republican leaders refused to bring it up for a vote, charging that it was politically driven. Instead, House Republicans passed their own bill along party lines without the added protections. In the end, neither side would concede and the both bills fizzled out along with the 112th Congress.
Leahy chided House Republicans for refusing to pass his VAWA bill over its expanded protections for abused women.
"A victim is a victim is a victim. We should stop setting up standards that say we will have one standard of law enforcement for one group of victims but not for another," Leahy said to applause. "This is going to be our first priority this year."
The Vermont Democrat said later that he plans to reintroduce the same VAWA bill from the last Congress, but will likely tweak it so House Republican leaders can't accuse him of having a "blue slip" problem. The term refers to an obscure practice the House can use to kill a bill that originates in the Senate if it raises revenue. The Constitution requires that all revenue-generating bills originate in the House.
In the case of VAWA, House Republican leaders argued that Leahy's bill was dead in the water because it would generate revenue by imposing a fee for visas that go to immigrant victims of domestic violence.
"I think we can cure the blue slip problem," Leahy said Wednesday.
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Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
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Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."