You’d think, writes Michelle Cottle, that Congress at least could agree on violence against women. Think again.
Much of the Beltway was still nursing an inaugural hangover when lawmakers gently but firmly waded back into the so-called war on women. Last Tuesday, Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Mike Crapo announced legislation aimed at reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The following day, House Democratic leaders followed suit, hosting a press conference to tout an identical bill by Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore—and, while they were at it, smack their Republican colleagues for failing to re-up the bill last year. As Nancy Pelosi was happy to remind voters, “House Republicans refused to bring the Senate's bipartisan bill to the floor, leaving millions without a critical line of defense against domestic violence.”
Her challenge was the latest volley in a battle begun during the superheated election cycle. First passed in 1994—with then-senator Joe Biden riding point—VAWA was reauthorized twice without drama. It was considered a no-brainer vote, a way for members of both parties to join hands and express their opposition to, well, violence against women. But last April, when the Senate handed its reauthorization bill off to the House, Republican members balked at three new provisions: one expanded protections for gays and lesbians, another did the same for Native Americans, and a third covered undocumented immigrants. Citing various objections to the expansions, House conservatives promptly countered with a pared-down bill that stripped out all three. The resulting uproar was less a legislative debate than a public cage match, with Democratic congresswomen leading the charge. “As chilling and callous as anything I’ve ever seen come before this Congress in modern times,” declared Rep. Carolyn Maloney at a May presser, while Rep. Judy Chu declared the House version the “Open Season on Violence Against Women Act.” Lickety split, what was once a circle-up-and-sing-“Kumbaya” issue became an election-year football, with both teams shrieking that the opposition was trying to score partisan points on the backs of battered women.