On Thursday afternoon, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’s vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) guaranteed much-needed protections for all women, but also demonstrated that Congress can advance popular initiatives if GOP leadership is willing to bring legislation to a vote.
Republicans sought to advance their own alternative to the Senate-backed VAWA — one which excluded protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented victims. But the GOP amendment failed and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) allowed the chamber to vote on the Senate alternative. It passed 286 to 138, with just 87 GOP votes and marked the third time Republicans advanced and approved legislation that did not garner a majority within their party caucus. The two other instances:
— FISCAL CLIFF: After Boehner abandoned his negotiations with the White House and his Plan B failed, the House ultimately approved a fiscal cliff deal with more than $600 billion in new revenue. The final bill passed 257 to 167 with 85 Republicans and 172 Democrats voting in favor.
— HURRICANE SANDY RELIEF: Boehner’s decision to delay a vote on a relief package for the victims of Hurricane Sandy stirred outrage within his own caucus from members who represented the affected areas. When the measure finally came to a vote, it passed 241 to 180 with 49 Republicans and 192 Democrats voting in favor.
These votes show how Congress can act on critical issues so long as Republicans dispense with the so-called Hastert Rule — an informal rule perpetuated by former House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-IL) that encourages Republicans to only vote on measures that have support from a majority within the GOP.
If the 435-member Congress does not allow the opposition of a dedicated minority of less than 200 conservatives to hold up the legislative agenda, then it can find bipartisan support for popular priorities like tax reform, gun safety and immigration reform.