WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are pushing ahead with their bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act, despite opposition from President Barack Obama and hundreds of advocacy groups who say the measure doesn't go far enough to protect battered illegal immigrants, Native Americans or gays.
The GOP proposal, which is narrower than a Senate-passed version, takes "direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault" and jeopardizes victims by placing them "directly in harm's way," the White House said in a statement.
An armada of groups advocating for women, immigrants, Indians and gays said they were taking names and holding accountable lawmakers who vote for the Republican bill, arguing that such a vote is akin to voting against the Violence Against Women Act.
"If Congress cannot stand up for all victims, we cannot stand up for our representatives," the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center wrote on its Facebook page.
Republicans say they are cracking down on fraud by making the grant process more accountable and maintaining the constitutionality of criminal procedures on Indian land.
"Republican men and women both abhor violence against women," Rep. Virginia Fox, R-N.C., said during the floor debate Wednesday. "I would say that we are more concerned against violence against women...we want to see the (federal) money spent better."
The Violence Against Women Act was established in 1994 to provide taxpayer money for the prevention of domestic abuse and the protection of victims. The last reauthorization, in 2005, expired in 2011.
The overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women — a critical constituency and one without which Obama would not be president. The renewal of the act, reauthorized twice with overwhelming bipartisan support, is the latest example of partisan warfare this year over women's issues that have won wide agreement in the past. Democrats cite it was the latest Republican effort to wage a war against women.
Majority Democrats in the Senate would expand the law to specifically protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Americans from discrimination and abuse in a move many Republicans saw as a provocation to vote against a bill approved without objection previously. Senate Republicans also objected to Democratic provisions in the bill that would give tribal authorities the power to prosecute non-Indians for abuse committed on tribal lands, saying it was unconstitutional because the accused would have no role in shaping laws that could be used against them.
The Senate bill passed, 68-31, with 15 Republicans voting yes.
The backlash against the GOP-written House version, now revised, is giving Republican leaders heartburn. On the eve of the vote Wednesday, Republicans revised the measure, sponsored by freshman Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla. — formerly a battered woman herself — to bring it closer to the Senate version. Gone, for example, was a provision that would have compromised the confidentiality of battered illegal immigrants who break from their partners, cooperate with law enforcement and apply for their own citizenship. But the White House said it still allows abusers to become aware of their victims' allegations.
Also still problematic for some: Provisions that prevent Native American authorities to prosecute non-Indians who commit abuse on Indian land.
Under a 1978 Supreme Court decision, non-Indians cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts for crimes committed on tribal land. Last July, the Justice Department recommended that Congress give tribes local authority to prosecute non-Indians in misdemeanor domestic and dating violence cases.
Instead, the Republican version allows a battered Native American woman or a tribe on her behalf to file in U.S. District Court for a protection order against an alleged abuser, whether Indian or not, who committed the abuse on Indian land. But the White House and other Democrats want tribal courts to be able to prosecute the offenders, a proposal Republicans insist is unconstitutional.
But even the revised House version omits the Senate's references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, a support-killer for advocates for those groups.
Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., told the House Rules Committee late Tuesday that the House bill should look more like the Senate bill on the immigrant and LGBT provisions.