Our guest blogger is Erik Stegman, Manager of the Half in Ten campaign for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
With only three weeks left for Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), one man is standing in its way: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). The House passed a version of VAWA last May by a narrow 222-205 vote, which stripped protections for LGBT, immigrant and Native American women included in an earlier Senate version of the bill. The Senate version passed by a now-rare 68 vote super majority, including every female Senator.
So, what’s the hold up? Protections for Native American women. As law enforcement, victims, and advocates have turned up pressure to pass the widely-supported Senate bill before the end of the year, other Republican House leaders have changed course and offered a compromise. Two members of senior Republican leadership, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK), an enrolled member of the Chicasaw Nation, introduced a stand alone bill that responds to their caucus’ concern about the Senate bill. The concern is over a provision that restores local tribal authority to prosecute domestic violence against Native American women. The Issa-Cole compromise adds protections for defendants with a new option to remove the case to federal court. In fact, Issa tried to offer this language as an amendment during committee consideration of the bill, but was shut down by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) who didn’t even allow a vote on it.
Although it is expected that the Majority Leader has worked through a compromise with advocates on the LGBT and immigration provisions, he has dug in his heels on stripping the Native American protections, even in light of the Issa-Cole compromise language.
After an election rife with statements splitting hairs over the definition of rape, and justifying unfair treatment of women, Republicans are scrambling to mend their party’s image when it comes to women and the inability to compromise. With few work days left in the 112th Congress, time is running out for this landmark legislation that strengthens law enforcement and funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence. That may explain why Republican leaders are now at odds with each other over holding up a domestic violence bill that sailed through Congress three times before. Even Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), who offered a similar stripped-down version of VAWA during consideration in the Senate, ended up voting for the bill that included full protections for Native, immigrant and LGBT victims. As the Majority Leader ponders how to move forward, he may want to take a cue from Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), another fellow Republican: “Rape is rape, and there’s no splitting hairs over rape.”