Today the House votes on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. This reauthorization has already passed the Senate with 68 votes, but the House version cancelled several protections Senate Democrats added, to apply domestic violence protections to Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT families. This has drawn a veto threat from the White House, a bold move in a time where Democrats have cited a “war on women” from Republicans. Here is the reasoning from the White House.
H.R. 4970 (the House VAWA reauthorization) retreats from this forward progress by failing to include several critical provisions that are part of the Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization bill. For instance, H.R. 4970 fails to provide for concurrent special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction by tribal authorities over non-Indians, and omits clarification of tribal courts’ full civil jurisdiction regarding certain protection orders over non-Indians. Given that three out of five Native American women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, these omissions in H.R. 4970 are unacceptable. The bill also fails to include language that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT victims in VAWA grant programs. No sexual assault or domestic violence victim should be beaten, hurt, or killed because they could not access needed support, assistance, and protection. In addition, H.R. 4970 does not include important improvements to the Clery Act found in the Senate-passed bill that would address the high rates of dating violence and sexual assault experienced by young people in college and other higher education institutions. The bill also weakens critical new provisions in the Senate-passed bill that would improve safety for victims living in subsidized housing.
H.R. 4970 also takes direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by removing critical protections currently in law. H.R. 4970 allows abusers to be notified when a victim files a VAWA self-petition for relief, and it eliminates the path to citizenship for U visa holders – victims of serious crimes such as torture, rape, and domestic violence – who are cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of these crimes. These proposals senselessly remove existing legal protections, undermine VAWA’s core purpose of protecting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, frustrate important law enforcement objectives, and jeopardize victims by placing them directly in harm’s way.
The Statement of Administration Policy closes by saying that “If the President is presented with H.R. 4970, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” White House advisor Valerie Jarrett expanded on these criticisms in a Huffington Post op-ed today, suggesting that the Administration wants to raise awareness on this issue, and press their advantage among women for the re-election campaign.
VAWA, a signature piece of legislation authored by then-Senator and current Vice President Joe Biden, has been reauthorized in uncontroversial fashion twice before.
Sahil Kapur writes that Republicans will try to allay these concerns with a series of amendments on the House floor today.
“The House’s re-authorization of VAWA ensures that law enforcement officials and prosecutors have the tools they need in order to investigate crimes and arrest and prosecute perpetrators,” a spokesperson for Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the legislation, told TPM when asked about the concerns. “Part of preventing domestic violence is ensuring that offenders don’t have the opportunity to enter into violent acts in the future.”
But advocates for anti-domestic-violence groups, women’s organizations and the LGBT community are not impressed and are lobbying against the Republican measure.
“[U]nless it can be amended to restore important protections, NOW will consider a vote for the bill to be a vote against VAWA,” said the National Organization For Women in an action alert calling on members to mobilize against the bill. “Adams bill is racially exclusionary and puts survivors at risk.”
Votes should happen later today.