The XX Factor

Congress Finally Passes the Violence Against Women Act

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a rally in support of VAWA.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Five hundred days since letting the Violence Against Women Act expire, House Republicans finally caved today and voted to reauthorize the bill, which was first passed in 1994 to help victims of rape and domestic violence find safety, care and justice. VAWA passed the House today with a vote of 286-138 (with the 138 against being all Republican), and President Obama is expected to sign it once it gets to his desk. Republicans aren’t too happy about this turn of events, but their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters, so they didn’t have much of a choice.

Since VAWA expired, House Republicans have been resisting the version of the bill that passed the Senate with a vote of 78-22. They objected mainly to expanded protections for LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native Americans. The last group became a particular sticking point, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor taking the lead in objecting to a provision that would allow tribal authorities jurisdiction in some cases where non-Native Americans rape or assault a Native American on tribal lands. House Republicans offered an alternative bill that didn’t have these expanded protections, which was voted down this morning before the more expansive Senate version passed.

While Republicans argued that they were only opposed to the expansions, but not to the core of the bill, holding up its passage just fed into the narrative that the party is increasingly anti-woman—a narrative that hurt Republicans in the November election. (Not that it’s really slowed down the flux of Republican-penned bills nationwide that restrict reproductive rights and threaten women who want abortions with the transvaginal probe.)

Of course, Republicans have only themselves to blame if people believe that ending VAWA is more of the same sexist malarkey. For one thing, all the Republicans who voted against VAWA in the Senate were men—all the female Republican senators voted for it. Then you have the nine Republican congressmen who declared that there was no version of VAWA they would support. Rep. Tom McClintock of California justified his resistance in 2012 by calling VAWA “a feel-good measure” and objecting to how the bill supposedly hamstrings “judges who are attempting to resolve and reconcile highly volatile relationships.” It is true, as I reported at the American Prospect, that VAWA puts an emphasis on separating victims from their abusers instead of trying to patch things up, but that’s because the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this strategy works better at keeping victims safe. Which is the point.