WASHINGTON -- Democrats are pushing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act this week, with an event by Vice President Biden on Wednesday and Senate debate that may begin mid-week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 2 approved the (S. 1925) reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which aims to increase the reporting and prosecution of violence against women. The bill was sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who is not a member of the committee. Nevertheless, the legislation attracted no GOP support among committee members and was approved by the committee on a party-line vote of 10-8. The act has been reauthorized twice before and Leahy's office said this was the first time it didn't receive bipartisan backing from the committee.
The measure now has a total of 61 cosponsors, including eight Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office, in an email on Monday, outlined the anticipated legislative calendar for coming days, with the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization following the Buffett Rule and postal reform (emphasis added):
We do not expect cloture will be invoked on S.2230 [Buffett Rule]. Please note S.2204, the Menendez bill to increase taxes on American energy companies, will be the underlying measure before the Senate if cloture is not invoked; however, we think Leader Reid will move to reconsider the cloture vote on the motion to proceed to Postal Reform (S.1789). Leader Reid has also indicated he will turn to the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) after postal reform. In addition, Sen. Enzi has a Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval regarding NLRB “Ambush Elections,” S.J.Res. 36. We will also vote on this resolution before the next recess.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed it was "likely" the Violence Against Women Act would be considered after postal reform, which is expected to follow the Buffett Rule. The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization could come "as early as mid-this week," the spokesman said. That would set it up to be the main focus next week, if there is no vote right away.
Since the Violence Against Women Act was first enacted in 1994, reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51 percent. The legislation was aimed at improving the response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Yet according to national statistics, more than three women are, on average, murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
The Leahy-Crapo reauthorization would increase the emphasis on reducing domestic homicides and sexual assault, strengthen housing protections for domestic violence victims and focus more on the high rates of violence among teens and young adults.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and a few conservative organizations, object not to the act as a whole, but to new protections for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute crimes.
The Leahy-Crapo bill enumerates protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by Violence Against Women Act grantees.
The reauthorization also expands the availability of visas for undocumented immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence and may be reluctant to come forward because of the risk of deportation. The act has always protected undocumented immigrants, but the reauthorization would raise the cap on visas for battered women and sexual assault victims to 15,000 from 10,000. The additional visas would come from unused visas from previous years.
Additionally, the reauthorization provides limited jurisdiction to tribes to prosecute Indian and non-Indian offenders in domestic violence cases. The tribal provision is taken from the SAVE Native Women Act, which had bipartisan support and was approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Grassley said during a Feb. 2 hearing he backs the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, but doesn't support the Leahy-Crapo version, in part because of the provisions on LGBT individuals, immigration and tribal authority.
He has said the Republican leadership would not block the reauthorization of the law as long as their alternative bill was considered.
Democrats have said that they plan to use the legislation to highlight what they see as an increasingly hostile Republican attitude toward women.
McConnell has accused Democrats of "sitting up at night trying to figure out a way to create an issue where there isn't one -- not to help solve our nation's problems, but to help Democrats get reelected."
Biden, when he was in the Senate, introduced the original Violence Against Women Act, and he continues to be an outspoken advocate. On Wednesday, he and other senior administration officials will host an event stressing the need to reauthorize the act.
This story was updated with the number of VAWA reauthorization cosponsors in the Senate.