In a dramatic reversal, House Republicans will allow a vote on the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), making it likely that the measure will pass into law.
The vote, which could come as soon as Thursday, ends a months-long standoff, in which Republicans allowed VAWA to expire rather than accept Democrat-proposed changes enhancing protections for Native American women attacked on reservations, as well as protections for lesbian, bisexual and trans women and undocumented immigrants.
House Republican leadership had proposed a watered-down version of the bill that would have reauthorized VAWA, but with limited protections for undocumented immigrants and without language specifically related to LGBT women.
The GOP plan met with wide condemnation from domestic violence advocates, with Jess McIntosh of EMILY’s List saying the bill was “lighter on protecting women than the bipartisan Senate version.”
Republicans plan to take a vote on their version of reauthorization by offering it as an amendment to the Senate bill, but with that amendment expected to fail, they would then allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate language.
House Republicans appear to be giving up on the weaker bill simply because it lacks the support to pass the House. House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions, R-Texas, told members of the committee that “you will have every opportunity to pass that Senate bill.” Asked by Ranking Member Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., if that meant Republicans expected their version of the bill to fail, Sessions replied, “What I’m suggesting to you is, yes, I believe you’re correct and I believe that the intent of this committee is to pass a bill out of this House.”
A majority of Republicans are expected to vote for the GOP amendment and against the final bill, meaning that once again, Republicans appear to be willing to do an end-run around the Hastert Rule, an unwritten principle that bills lacking support of the majority of Republicans won’t be brought up for a vote.
The House Republicans’ willingness to allow these provisions to go into law even without a support of the majority of the caucus is a strong signal that if nothing else, they recognize that they cannot continue to hold up legislation that is both vital to the safety of women and wildly successful. Earlier this month, conservative groups were echoing men’s rights advocates in opposition to reauthorization. Today, VAWA appears poised to be passed back into law. That’s a sign that whatever the more backward-looking groups in the GOP may say, the nation as a whole is continuing to move toward a more egalitarian society — and that the GOP leadership knows it.
What will be interesting to see is what this presages for Republican activity on women’s issues in the coming months. Republicans have been hemorrhaging support from women over the last year, due to opposition to contraception coverage and ill-considered statements on rape and abortion by Republican candidates. The continued failure of the GOP-led House to approve a VAWA extension has caused further damage to the party’s standing with women. The willingness of the House GOP to ignore the Hastert Rule is a sign that at least some Republicans recognize that alienating 51 percent of the electorate is not a path to future victory.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Republican Party remains skeptical — to say the least — of protecting women’s rights makes for an interesting dynamic. It appears that most Republicans in the House are happy to let women suffer if it means they don’t have to extend protection to Native American, LGBT and/or undocumented women. Still, House leadership appears to realize that the county does not agree. It appears that to be blunt, pressure on the GOP to support women’s rights works, at least enough that they’re willing to let measures through that a majority of the House supports, if not a majority of the GOP. It’s possible this could indicate a new bout of sensibility on the part of the Republican House Caucus. Then again, it’s possible that in order to placate his most misogynist members, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will have to allow votes on forcible rape again.
Regardless, this is a significant victory for women, and a sign that whatever its bluster, the GOP knows that it has to find a way to win women back — and that starts with not actively driving women away.