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Senate approves Violence Against Women Act despite GOP opposition

Just six weeks after Republicans in the last Congress blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Democratic Senate made the law a top
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.)
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.)

Just six weeks after Republicans in the last Congress blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Democratic Senate made the law a top priority and approved the bill in a lopsided vote this afternoon.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon to pass legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with expanded protections for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who suffer from domestic abuse.The final vote of 78-22 came after the Senate rejected Republican-sponsored amendments to replace the bill with a scaled-back reauthorization and to eliminate a provision permitting Native American courts to try non-Native Americans accused of domestic abuse on tribal lands, which many Republicans say is unconstitutional.The legislation also adopted an amendment by VAWA's chief sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), providing law enforcement more tools to combat human trafficking (by a 93-5 vote), and another by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to make sure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible to receive grant assistance (by a 100-0 vote).

For the record, the five senators who took an inexplicable stand against a measure to combat human trafficking were Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

As for the final vote on VAWA, all 22 votes against the proposal were Republican men. Indeed, it's worth noting that there are only 45 Senate Republicans total, so just about half of the GOP caucus opposed reauthorizing a bipartisan bill intended to help combat domestic violence. These Republicans -- including Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- knew VAWA would pass the Senate anyway, but wanted to be on record against the law.

The total of 22 GOP opponents was, however, down slightly from the 31 Senate Republicans who voted against the Violence Against Women Act in the last Congress. Perhaps this is what passes for "progress" in contemporary conservative politics?

VAWA now moves to the House, which is where it died in the last Congress, and where it may once more run into right-wing opposition.

As recently as 2005, there was a Republican majority in the House, but the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized on a vote of 415 to 4. No, that's not a typo. But as Republicans became increasingly radicalized, the bill that garnered 415 votes a few Congresses ago couldn't even get 218 votes last year.

It's unclear whether House GOP leaders will even consider the Senate bill, but it's worth noting that some House Republicans are tiring of their party's games on this issue.

More than a dozen House Republicans sent a letter to their party leaders on Monday night urging them to "immediately" reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with a bipartisan bill -- something the House failed to do in the last Congress."Now is the time to seek bipartisan compromise on the reauthorization of these programs," reads the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), signed by 17 House Republicans. "VAWA programs save lives, and we must allow states and communities the opportunity to build upon the success of current VAWA programs so that we can help even more people."

We'll see what happens -- I'm cautiously optimistic -- but in case electoral considerations matter, I'd note that Republicans lost badly in the 2012 elections, thanks in part to the largest gender gap in modern times.

If the GOP intends to improve its standing, it may want to reconsider the wisdom of killing the Violence Against Women Act twice.