Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Newly Expanded Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)


A critical piece of legislation passed with an incredible display of bipartisan support today as the Senate voted 78-22 to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Since VAWA expired in 2011, there has been serious doubt as to whether it would be renewed even in its original language, much less with the expanded protections that the new version included to cover homosexuals, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. Republicans had found the inclusion of these new categories of protected women to be deeply problematic and refused to renew the law.

Not all of the proposed expansions were met with resistance, however. TalkingPointsMemo reports:

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).

The original law provided for the funding of clinics, shelters, hotlines and services for victims of domestic abuse since its passage in 1994. It also provided training for law enforcement to both recognize and handle cases where a woman is being brutalized by a spouse or partner. As there is an epidemic of rape and abuse in the United States, the passage and the renewal of the law should have been a no-brainer but Democrats opted to protect ALL vulnerable women, not just the “approved” ones, and, predictably, some Republicans balked.

While the conservative antipathy towards gay women and undocumented immigrants is well known, it came as something of a shock that the GOP was openly hostile towards Native Americans as well. The new verbiage closes a loophole that non-Native Americans have been exploiting for a long time: they could enter a reservation, rape a woman and leave without fear of reprisal. Native American law enforcement jurisdiction ends at the border of a reservation. Because of this, Native American women are two and a half times more likely to be raped than non-Native women.

That the GOP would be opposed to closing this loophole (they claim it’s for “constitutional reasons”) and allowing the authorities to pursue rapists off of tribal lands was not a popular move, to say the least. That Republicans were apparently fine with allowing undocumented immigrants and gay women to be assaulted with little recourse was also infuriating. In the end, blocking VAWA’s renewal turned out to be electoral suicide as women across the nation voted their outrage.

Even now, knowing full well that continuing to dismiss the concerns and needs of women is a surefire path to political irrelevance, fully half of the Senate GOP voted against the renewal on the basis of the expanded language. TPM lists the “No” votes:

The 22 Republicans who voted against it were Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Tom Coburn (OK), John Cornyn (TX), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), James Inhofe (OK), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Tim Scott (SC), Jeff Sessions (AL) and John Thune (SD).

Of particular note is Marco Rubio, the “savior” of the GOP; Mitch McConnell, the most unpopular senator in the country and Rand Paul, who will be running on the Libertarian ticket for president as soon as feasibly possible. Their “No” votes will come back to haunt them during their next election.

Now the bill goes to the House, which is already making noise that it is not happy with all this extra gay, immigrant and Native American stuff in the bill. It remains to be seen if John Boehner can corral the Tea Party extremists long enough to keep them from setting off a fresh round of public outrage at the GOP’s indifference to the suffering of women.

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