WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that GOP leaders are still sorting out how they plan to move forward on Violence Against Women Act legislation. But in a major shift from last year's debacle over the issue, Boehner signaled that he may be open to taking up the expanded VAWA bill that passed the Senate earlier this week.
Boehner was short on details when asked about the House plan for VAWA. House Republican leaders have been mum on the issue for weeks, even as the Senate sped its bill through on Tuesday.
"Our leadership [is] continuing to work with the committee of jurisdiction, looking at finding ways to deal with this legislation. We're fully committed to doing everything we can to protect women in our society, and I expect that the House will act in a timely fashion in some way," he said during a press briefing.
But Boehner added, "No decision has been made about ... whether we take up the Senate bill or our own version of the bill."
Boehner's comments come after Congress failed to reauthorize VAWA last year -- the first time since the law's inception in 1994 -- due largely to House Republican opposition to the Senate bill, which included new protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence. House Republicans said those provisions were politically driven and pushed their own pared-down bill; the Senate refused to take out the provisions, which had broad bipartisan support in that chamber. In the end, neither side blinked and both bills went out the window when Congress adjourned in December.
The fact that Boehner is even leaving the door open to taking up the Senate bill signals that this year's VAWA debate may not be nearly as contentious as last year's, which, it is worth noting, took place in the midst of a presidential election. The stalled Senate VAWA bill was frequently cited as part of Democrats' contention that Republicans were waging a "war on women," a theme that resonated through much of the election cycle.
Key players in the VAWA debate have also been talking. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of the Senate bill, personally reached out to Boehner this week to try to find a way to move VAWA through the House, and the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Vice President Joe Biden have been talking this week, according to Hill sources. Biden was an original co-sponsor of the VAWA law and the issue is one of his top priorities.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said it is "encouraging" that Boehner hasn't ruled out taking up the Senate VAWA bill.
"Moderate, reasonable Republicans have already pointed out that it will pass the House if Speaker Boehner just brings it up. It's also the only path to get this bill to the president's desk," said the aide.
This year's Senate VAWA bill, which passed the Senate in a 78-22 vote, is similar to last year's. The biggest difference is that it doesn’t include an increase in the number of U visas available to immigrant victims of domestic violence. Leahy has pledged to attach that piece to immigration reform legislation, which will come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
To be sure, House Republican leaders could still put forward their own bill with different provisions. If they do, it will likely be introduced by a female lawmaker, said one GOP aide. One name that has been floated is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
Cantor took some heat for last year's failure on VAWA, in part because he was negotiating directly with VAWA advocates to try to reach a compromise on a tribal provision in the bill that was -- and still is -- the biggest obstacle to VAWA's passage in the House. But some domestic violence groups are now praising Cantor for his efforts to try to hammer out language that all sides can accept. Kim Gandy, the president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said earlier this week that Cantor’s office has been "particularly responsive in terms of meeting with advocates and trying to achieve agreement with his Republican caucus."
Gandy's comments "demonstrate that we've remained engaged and are working hard to get this done," said Cantor spokesman Doug Heye. "Finding agreement and moving forward legislation to protect all women has been Majority Leader Cantor's priority from day one. To that end, we continue to work with VAWA advocates to find agreement on the best path forward."
Clarification: Language has been amended to explain more exactly the difference between the provisions for undocumented immigrants in this version of the Senate bill and last year's.
Earlier on HuffPost:
99 Problems (JAY-Z)
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."
Just My Imagination (The Temptations)
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.
Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)
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."
Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)
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.
We Don't Care (Kanye West)
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."