No real answers on ‘death’ of Violence Against Women Act

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as she and other Democrats...
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as she and other Democrats...
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Even after facing backlash for effectively killing an act historically seen as a bi-partisan non-issue, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is short on answers explaining precisely why he and a number of his fellow Republicans opposed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.

“Majority Leader Cantor has worked hard seeking to move the bill forward so we can protect all victims and prosecute offenders,” Cantor’s office told Melissa Harris-Perry Thursday in a written statement. “The majority leader has been working with our members and directly with Vice President Biden to seek common ground across party lines and put an end to violence against women.”

But the House version Cantor supports, by definition, does not protect “all victims.” That description would apply more accurately to the more inclusive version, which added provisions granting legal protections to American Indians, undocumented immigrants, and lesbian and trans women, and passed with a supermajority in the Senate. But per a new report today from Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur, what happened when it got to the House was vintage GOP obstructionism:

Republican leaders deployed their female members to make the case for it, notably Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), a leadership member, and Rep. Sandy Adams (FL), herself a victim of domestic violence. Over the objections of advocates for abused victims, but with the support of a so-called men’s rights group, House GOP leaders passed their version on a partisan vote, despite a White House veto threat.

And that’s when the legislation stalled, never to recover.

A Republican source who complained of House Democratic tactics to TPM pointed to a Dec. 7 letter from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women applauding Cantor’s “good faith” negotiations with Democrats like Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont concerning the new VAWA provisions. Dec. 7 was a while ago; what are they saying now?

In a statement posted on their site Thursday expressing their “anger” over the failure to pass a new VAWA, it appears the national task force has run out of patience.

“The U.S. House of Representatives continued to voice strong opposition to offering basic protections to certain vulnerable populations…” the task force wrote. “There is no time to waste in addressing the needs of victims.  We call on the 113th Congress to act immediately on VAWA this month and pass a bill that safely and effectively meets the needs of all victims.”

One member of that new Congress, Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, has been one of the more vocal advocates for passage of the Senate version of VAWA. She was the author of a December letter signed by ten House Republicans urging that passage, and delivered to Cantor–among others. On Thursday, her office released this statement to Melissa Harris-Perry, seeking to show that the VAWA isn’t “dead,” in the purest sense:

However, reports that VAWA is “dead” are untrue; VAWA’s authorization expired over a year ago, but its programs and services continue to operate under language last updated in 2005. Still, VAWA’s current form is in serious need of the updates and enhancements suggested by the domestic violence and sexual assault community.

We must continue to fight for funds for VAWA through the appropriations process, and we absolutely must make sure that the sequester doesn’t hit at the end of February. The sequester’s cuts to VAWA programs would be incredibly harmful, particularly at the state and local level.

Our goal for the next few weeks and months is to speak out on behalf of VAWA and ensure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the debt ceiling and ongoing budget-related discussions.

We must reauthorize VAWA, and we must do it now.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed Moore in her statement, but is passage of a new VAWA likely in this new Congress? Moore, a survivor of sexual assault, is one of a record 80 women now–as of today’s swearings-in–serving in the House of Representatives. A record 20 now serve in the Senate. But as both Tara Culp-Ressler in The Atlantic and The Cycle co-host Krystal Ball noted today, the problem may lie in the fact that those numbers aren’t nearly high enough. After listing the new Senate protections referenced above, Ball wrote, “I don’t know how you could object to any of those things. The only explanation is a lack of personal connection to the problem.”