In the not-too-distant past, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was relatively uncontroversial. When the legislation, written in large part by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), was first approved in 1993, it passed the House on a voice vote, before clearing the Senate on a 95-to-4 vote. Seven years later, the law was reauthorized in the House on a 415-to-3 vote.
The politics of VAWA changed dramatically in the years that followed. Indeed, congressional reapprovals of the Violence Against Women Act have failed in recent years, and VAWA lapsed in 2019, unable to overcome Republican opposition.
Proponents are determined to bring the law back to life, and as Roll Call reported, the Democratic-led House passed a bill to restore the Violence Against Women Act.
The House bill would expand victim services and reauthorize for five years grant programs for the criminal justice response to domestic and sexual violence. It also includes provisions that would expand housing options for survivors, and allow tribal jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence on tribal lands.
And yet, when the dust settled late yesterday, the bill passed with a relatively narrow majority, 244 to 172. In all, only 29 House Republicans supported the legislation, while 172 voted against it. This reflects a small step backward: two years ago, when the lower chamber passed a similar bill, it received 33 GOP votes.
What's the problem? As societal needs have changed, Democrats have taken steps to expand VAWA protections in two key areas:
(1) supporting LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking;
(2) preventing abusers from buying guns, including closing the so-called "boyfriend loophole," while adding dating partners and stalkers to the firearm ban.
For many Republicans, these provisions make the bill "partisan."
In 2019, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to even consider a similar version of VAWA, and the bill withered on the vine. This year, however, there's a Democratic-led Senate, which is eager to tackle the issue.
But what about the inevitability of a Republican filibuster? NPR reported overnight that some GOP senators indicated this week that they're "working on finding a bipartisan compromise that can pass the now-Democratic-controlled chamber." The report quoted Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a supporter of the law, adding, "I think it's fair to say that there is a good strong interest in trying to advance VAWA."
What VAWA may look like after Senate Republicans alter it is a separate question. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), for example, expressed an openness to reauthorizing VAWA -- but not its restrictions on guns.
Watch this space.