Pressure on Boehner to ensure the Violence Against Women Act becomes law

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to the media about the fiscal cliff at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.
House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to the media about the fiscal cliff at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

With the receipt of a letter signed by 17 Republican lawmakers this week, pressure is mounting on Speaker John Boehner to approve the Violence Against Women Act, whose fate lies with the House of Representatives after being passed by the Senate Tuesday.

VAWA passed the Senate in a solid show of support, with 78 Senators voting for the anti-domestic violence measure , including every Republican and Democratic woman in the Senate. The Senate version of the law strengthens federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and allocates funding to train over a half a million law enforcement officers, prosecutors and other personnel, among other things.

Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and a former President of the National Organization for Women, pointed out on Andrea Mitchell Reports Friday that support is up from the 68 votes with which the last Senate reauthorized the 19-year-old law. The Senate reauthorized the law by unanimous consent in 2000 and 2005.

Gandy told Mitchell that support for VAWA among House Republicans exceeds the seventeen senators co-signed on the letter to Boehner.

“I was surprised to see that some of the House Republicans who have been supportive up to this point, with whom we’ve been working, weren’t even on the letter,” Gandy said. “This was a whole new set of House Republicans that joined together to say we need a bipartisan bill, we need to do it, we need to get it done now, take leadership, make it happen.”

The core Republican argument against the bill, being advanced by conservative groups like Heritage Action, Freedomworks and the Family Research Council is that it constitutes an overreach of government. Gandy pointed out that while state and local governments do have their own domestic violence laws, “the don’t have sufficient funding to deal with it.”

“And there’s the issue of crimes that take place across state lines, interstate crimes, and crimes on federal lands, like tribal lands, like military bases and the like,” Gandy added. “Those simply were not addressed. And the Violence Against Women Act was needed to set up those criminal laws in areas that were not addressed by state laws and also to provide money that was badly needed for law enforcement, for prosecution, for judges, for training, for direct services.

The original legislation was authored by Vice President Joe Biden, then the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and co-authored by Republican Orrin Hatch in 1994. Gandy pointed to the effects of an influx of women elected to the senate in 1992, often remembered as “the year of the woman.”

“I always wondered why it was just one year and one woman, but that was the big year,” Gandy said.

The law expired in 2011, and the version passed by the Senate Tuesday extends protections to undocumented immigrants, gays, and Native American women. The expanded protections have met resistance from Republican lawmakers in the House.

President Obama urged Congress to reauthorize VAWA in his State of the Union Address Tuesday, saying, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same.”

Boehner offered a tepid response to the president’s call to action. “I expect the House will act in a timely fashion in some way,” the Speaker said Thursday. “No decision has been made about how we, whether we take up the Senate bill or if we move our own version of the bill.”