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Violence Against Women Act trips up another GOP lawmaker

If VAWA opponents can't defend their votes, maybe they shouldn't have cast those votes?
Steve Southerland
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, performs a mock swearing in for Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington as the 113th Congress began.
Last year, we helped uncover an unfortunate pattern: at least nine congressional Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but after President Obama signed its reauthorization, these same lawmakers issued statements suggesting they supported the law.
This year, the problem hasn't gone away.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) recently unveiled a remarkably deceptive campaign ad about his record on VAWA, and as Samantha Lachman reported, the Kentucky Republican isn't alone.

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who faces a strong challenge from Democrat Gwen Graham, released a new ad [late last week] in which a campaign supporter says Southerland "is advocating for things like the Violence Against Women Act." A banner in the ad says "Southerland: Voted for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act." But the ad doesn't tell the full story. Southerland voted for the House GOP's version of the reauthorization, which left out expanded protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence. He did not vote for the Senate's bipartisan version of the bill, which passed the Senate by a 78-22 vote and eventually became law.

It was the Senate bill that the Republican-led House eventually passed, which Southerland voted to kill, and which President Obama ultimately signed.
In other words, when it came to the Violence Against Women Act, there was one bill, which Southerland joined many other conservative Republicans in opposing. When his ad says the congressman supported "things like" VAWA, it's obviously misleading.
Which leads to the larger question: if all of these Republicans are so embarrassed by their vote, why didn't they just support the Violence Against Women Act in the first place?
VAWA has, after all, traditionally enjoyed broad bipartisan support. For that matter, it was a Democratic priority in the Senate and White House, putting Republicans in an awkward position.
By the time the Senate bill reached the House floor last year, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he would ignore the so-called "Hastert Rule," it was clear VAWA would pass rather easily. Republicans had a choice -- join the bipartisan majority and vote for a bill that was slated for approval anyway, or stand on principle and vote to kill a popular measure.
Most GOP lawmakers took the latter path.
That was, of course, their right. But if they opposed VAWA that strongly, why deliberately mislead voters now? Why pretend to support a proposal they tried to kill?
As we've discussed before, if Southerland and his colleagues can't defend their votes, maybe they shouldn't have cast those votes. The congressman's task during the election season should be to make his case to voters about why he opposed the legislation, not pretend he supported it.
If Southerland regrets his vote, that's fine, too -- he can apologize and tell the public he'll do better next time. But deception is the wrong way to go.