By a vote of 286-138, the House passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act Thursday, expanding protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, and immigrants.
“I want to thank leaders from both parties–especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswomen Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy–for everything they’ve done to make this happen,” President Obama said in a statement. “Renewing this bill is an important step toward towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
The bill, written by Joe Biden in 1994, has been reauthorized twice in its history without dispute. Negotiations around a third renewal reached an impasse at the end of the last Congress when House Republicans accused Senate Democrats of “moving the goal posts” by adding a Native American provision. The provision in question holds that non-Native American men accused of domestic violence on tribal lands can be prosecuted in tribal courts.
House Republicans unveiled their own version of the bill last Friday, excluding parts of the Native American provision, as well as certain protections for gay, bisexual, or transgender victims. The House version came under immediate and intense scrutiny as several Democrats took to the House floor to urge Republicans to pass the Senate’s bill.
“I pray that this body will do as the Senate has done and come together as one to protect all women from violence,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI). “As I think about the L.G.B.T. victims who are not here, the native women who are not here, the immigrants who aren’t in this bill, I would say, as Sojourner Truth would say, ‘Ain’t they women?’”
In the end, 87 House Republicans signed on with 199 Democrats to pass the Senate’s legislation. Conservatives have faced mounting pressure on women’s issues, a theme that became stark when Obama beat presidential challenger Mitt Romney by 11 points among women last November.
“The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious,” Joe Biden, original architect of VAWA, said in a statement. “Consider just one fact: that 40% of all mass shootings started with the murdered targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife. Among many other important provisions, the new VAWA will increase the use of proven models of reducing domestic violence homicides.”
Biden also thanked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Thursday for letting pass a bill he could have blocked. “He kept his word,” Biden said. Cantor voted against the Senate version himself. His own version was soundly defeated in the House by a vote of 166 to 257. When the GOP bill went down, Democrats cheered.