The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is, in normal times, an uncontroversial bipartisan law that was originally passed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The law was intended to buttress protections within the law for women affected by violence by stiffening sentences for perpetrators and enabling access by women to civil proceedings, even when prosecutors decline to pursue criminal charges. According to the Wall Street Journal, VAWA is encountering resistance for the first time since its inception. Republicans are obstructing the law's renewal on the basis that it now includes language protecting Native Americans, immigrants and LGBT Americans.
All eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have voted against renewing the law, a move that has touched off a firestorm with Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden delivered an impassioned speech on the topic Wednesday at the White House. Attorney General Eric Holder called it "inconceivable" that passage of the law is up for debate. The Act was unanimously renewed in 2000 and 2005.
Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) held a press conference denouncing Republican obstructionism with regards the the law on Wednesday. Conservative objections arise out of new stipulations within the law that "expand efforts to reach Indian tribes, include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence and allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas."
Michael Cole-Schwartz, Director of Communications for the LGBT rights organization the Human Rights Campaign told Raw Story, "Victims of domestic violence need assistance, not irrational barriers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only is it wrongheaded to oppose the LGBT-inclusive provisions, it’s absurd to oppose the entire bill for that reason.”
Iowa Senator Charles Grassley (R), who leads opposition to the law's renewal, said, "I wish we could proceed in a consensus fashion again. But there are provisions in the bill before us that have never been part of VAWA before. They're not consensus items."
Republicans say they are drafting their own, scaled-back version of the law, but have yet to produce any specific proposals, in spite of the fact that the initial dissenting Judiciary Committee vote took place in February.
Janice Crouse, a spokesperson for the group Concerned Women for America, told the Wall Street Journal that VAWA "pits husbands against wives," and that under the law "A woman can, with the barest evidence and no evidence at all, claim abuse and get (a husband or partner) out of the house." CWA president Penny Nance wrote to Congress urging members to block VAWA's renewal.
The Senate will debate the bill next week, at a time when Republicans are finding themselves increasingly unpopular with women. Possibly hoping to head off potential political damage, a spokesperson for Gov. Romney said that the candidate hopes the law can be renewed without the issue "turning into a political football."
President Obama is expected to address the topic within the coming week.
Watch Vice President Joe Biden's remarks at the White House, embedded via YouTube, below: