President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act into law on Thursday.
“All women deserve the right to live free from fear,” the president told those in attendance. “That’s what today is about.”
In 2011, VAWA lapsed for the first time since 1994, when House Republicans balked at enhanced protections for undocumented immigrants, Native Americans and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Studies have shown that the law — written by then-senator Joe Biden — dramatically reduced domestic violence by as much as 67 percent (PDF).
The law previously had been expanded and renewed twice with broad bipartisan support.
“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory,” Obama said. “This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”
The bipartisan Senate bill that included the expanded protections was not even put up for a vote in the House last year. A GOP “civil war” that led to Speaker Boehner breaking the Hastert Rule — which requires a majority of the House majority to support any bill that gets a vote — was required before the bill was finally passed 288-138 earlier in February.
House Republicans also voted on their own version of the law without the new provisions, which failed to win majority support.
The law is so popular that Republican congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI) recently claimed he voted for the law even though he only supported the failed Republican version.
“One of the great legacies of this law is it didn’t just change the rules, it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out,” Obama said.
Despite the continued effectiveness of the law — violence against women is down 64 percent just in the last decade – 1 in 5 women will be raped during their lifetime, the president noted.
“There are still too many women in this country who live in fear of violence,” Biden said in his introduction of President Obama.
Not only does the law improve the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women, it authorizes about $659 million a year over five years to fund grants for transitional housing, legal assistance, law enforcement training and hotlines.
It also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, adding stalking to the list of crimes that make immigrants eligible for protection, along with authorizing programs that help college campuses deal with sexual violence.
The president dedicated the victory to the victims of domestic violence.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, March 7, 2013
Last week, Congress passed a bill with bipartisan support and sent it to the president. Even though the bill essentially reauthorized a law that has been on the books for nearly 20 years, in this era of gridlock, despite a fair amount of Republican resistance, it was a noteworthy result because of its largely bipartisan support. President Obama will sign the bill on Thursday, once again enacting the law.
It was legislation that reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, a statute first championed by then-senator Joe Biden and originally signed into law in 1994. Since then, the law has been reauthorized twice, in 2000 and 2005, with overwhelming bipartisan support until the House Republicans let it expire at the end of last year.
One has to wonder why, when the evidence has been crystal-clear that the law has worked effectively, that it was ever allowed to expire. Since 1994, the rate of intimate partner violence has declined by 67 percent. From 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35 percent and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46 percent.
So, what made this reauthorization process different? Was it opposition to the added provisions that help eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits to allow law enforcement officers the ability to apprehend and convict more rapists? Was it the added provisions requiring colleges to collect and disclose information about sexual assault and provide greater services to protect students against dating violence and stalking?
Neither is the answer; the opposition came from 168 Republicans including Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who joined 10 other GOP women in voting against the measure, and said: ” I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups.”
Who might be those “other different groups”? One word: women.
The Senate added provisions to enhance protections for Native Americans, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and undocumented women who have been victims of domestic violence. Those are the women that Blackburn considers “other different groups” and therefore should not be afforded the same protections under the law.
The Justice Department reports that 1 in 3 Native American women is raped over their lifetime and that non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts, commit more than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations. The new provision included language to close this loophole allowing for the prosecution of these men while protecting their right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost half of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetimes and nearly 1 in 3 lesbians has experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.
In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by 18 points, in part, by failing to connect with women on issues that matter to them most. Going forward, if the GOP ever hopes to bridge that gap, perhaps it should start by defining and treating all women equally as women and not “other different groups.”
It is incumbent that our lawmakers work to protect all victims of domestic and dating violence and sexual assault, and not exclude those women who might not fit ones traditional definitions. Let’s allow the reauthorization of this legislation to act as a guide for our country in continuing to be a cutting-edge proponent for women victim rights in the world.
By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, March 6, 2013
Why does John Boehner subject himself to this?
Not for the first time this year, and probably not for the last, the speaker allowed to the floor on Thursday a major piece of legislation that a solid majority of the Republican Conference voted against, that passed mainly on the strength of Democratic votes, and that the Obama White House will now trumpet as a major achievement. The bill at hand was the Violence Against Women Act, which had easily passed the Senate only to meet with fierce resistance from conservatives in the House. In the end, 138 House Republicans went on the record against it, while 87 backed it. Among Democrats, meanwhile, there wasn’t a single “no” vote.
We saw this same dynamic at the start of the year, when the fiscal cliff deal passed with just 85 Republicans voting “yes” – and 151 voting “no.” And we saw it a few weeks after that, when a $50.5 billion Sandy aid package cleared the chamber with only 49 Republicans supporting it, and 179 opposing it.
The common thread in all of these instances is that true-believer conservatives imposed politically toxic positions on the GOP conference and Boehner had embarrassingly little ability to put a stop to the madness. It was only when the power of public outrage, poll numbers and pressure from members in marginal districts grew just strong enough that Boehner had the ability to allow floor votes and resolve the issues without losing his speakership to a coup of angry conservatives.
Really, this has been the story of Boehner’s entire tenure as speaker. In the 112thCongress, Boehner famously negotiated to the brink of a deficit reduction “grand bargain” with President Obama, one that would have exchanged modest revenue increases for serious cuts to safety net programs. But even that was giving away too much in the eyes of the Tea Party crowd, forcing Boehner to walk away from the table. Back then, Boehner could mostly settle for not striking deals with the administration and leaving most issues to fester. In the minds of most Republicans, the lousy economy would knock Obama out of office in 2012 and deliver the Senate to the GOP too, empowering the party to impose a true-believer agenda in 2013.
But then Obama won a resounding reelection victory, Democrats added to their Senate majority, and the GOP lost seats in the House. This has created a new dynamic in the 113thCongress, with an emboldened second-term president more confidently pushing his agenda and ratcheting up public pressure on Republicans to meet him halfway. It’s also helped that Obama has had public opinion on his side, and that in the case of the fiscal cliff, Republicans were facing the prospect of being blamed for automatic across-the-board tax hikes if they failed to compromise. So in this Congress, unlike the last one, there is serious pressure on Boehner, for the overall good of his party, to make some deals.
But he’s hamstrung by the fact that what’s good for the GOP’s overall image isn’t necessarily good politics for individual Republican members. Many of them represent deeply Republican districts, where there’s no such thing as a serious general election challenge. That moves all of the action to the GOP primary, which has two effects: 1) It increases the likelihood that a Tea Party-type will win the seat; 2) it forces Republicans who aren’t truly Tea Party-types to behave like Tea Party-types so that they can win primaries. This pressure exists in non-safe districts too, but there’s a little more tension for these Republican members, who have to worry about potential primary challenges along with the general election. And then there’s Boehner, who is deeply distrusted by the conservative movement, thus forcing him to consider the possibility of a revolt by restive conservatives before making any major decisions.
Thus, the only real option for Boehner is what we keep seeing this year. When there’s a major piece of legislation where public opinion is on the Democrats’ side, Boehner has to wait until enough pressure and outrage has built that a healthy number of Republicans from marginal districts who value their seats and Republicans from safe districts who value having the majority decide it’s in their interests to resolve the issue. Only then can Boehner move the bill to the floor. And even then, the majority of Republicans will feel compelled – either by their genuine ideological views or by fear of a primary challenge – to vote against it.
Which brings us to the sequester that’s now kicking in. This is hardly a surprising development. Obama has made his negotiating position clear: He wants to get rid of it and enact a “balanced” fix that includes entitlement cuts and increased revenue from tax deductions and loopholes. There is absolutely no way that Boehner could sell anything along these lines to his conference right now. Conservatives in the House and across the country are still smarting from the fiscal cliff deal, so anything involving more revenue – even if it’s not actually from tax rate increases – is a non-starter. For now.
But what happens as the sequester is implemented and Americans begin to see the impact? And as the defense industry, which still has real clout within the GOP, even if it’s not nearly as much as it once did, begins to feel the impact? And what happens as the prospect of an ever worse situation – a government shutdown triggered by the March 27 expiration of the continuing resolution that now funds the government – approaches? What if polls show voters breaking hard against the GOP?
That’s the kind of political toxicity that Boehner needs to sell any kind of a deal to his fellow Republicans – one that would give some ground on revenue, incur the wrath of the right, pass mainly with Democratic votes and (ideally for Boehner) allow the speaker to hold onto his title. In fact, as best anyone can tell, this basically is Boehner’s strategy right now. As Politico reported earlier this week, he seems to be “aiming for a hefty dose of spending cuts and reforms like a change to calculating government benefits called chained CPI and closing a few tax loopholes.”
Chained CPI or some other serious cut to the safety net could prompt anger on the left that could complicate the new Boehner strategy of passing big bills with Democratic support. But that’s not his worry right now. For whatever reason, he likes being speaker, even though he’s an unusually powerless one, and he wants to keep the job. So he’ll take the sequester and wait.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, March 1, 2013
“Third Strike For The Hastert Rule”: Violence Against Women Act Win Shows Obama Has House GOP’s Number
The Violence Against Women Act passed the House today with bipartisan support. The renewal of the law represents a win for good public policy. It also marks another win for President Obama’s legislative strategy as he reaps the rewards of the conservative movement’s widening schism from the main stream of American thought.
Congress-watchers well remember the “Hastert Rule,” a guideline created by former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert that said nothing would reach the floor of the House that didn’t have the support of a majority of the majority; in other words nothing could pass that didn’t have the support of a majority of House Republicans. I think that we can safely say that the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act puts the final nail into the Hastert Rule’s coffin—it’s taken three strikes this year and now it’s out.
First 151 Republicans voted against the deal which resolved the tax portion of the so-called fiscal cliff (remember that the “cliff” was composed not only of tax hikes but also of spending cuts, the ones which go into effect tomorrow), while 85 voted in favor of it; then 179 Republicans voted against the Hurricane Sandy relief package with only 49 voting in favor; and now 138 Republicans have voted against the Violence Against Women Act while 87 supported it.
In all three cases the Republican-controlled House passed bills that had been roundly criticized by conservatives. Why? Because they were broadly popular and while individual GOP legislators are undoubtedly voting the way their constituents would like, the party’s leadership has to keep an eye on the broader picture. And what they saw was that the party’s base is on the unpopular side of issues that are poisoning the GOP brand. That’s why the GOP is doing even worse now than it was during the depths of their shutdown-induced toxicity in the mid-1990s, according to this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. So the leadership made the smart choice—to get past toxic issues while giving their rank and file a chance to vote against them.
The problem for Republicans and House leaders is that Obama’s State of the Union address, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, which laid out his agenda for the year, is chock full of such items—ones on which he has the advantage of a significant cleavage between mainstream voters and conservatives.
How many more times will House leaders be forced to bring unpopular-with-their-caucus measures to the House floor? And is there a point at which conservatives rebel against it? The famous industrialist Auric Goldfinger was fond of the old Chicago maxim: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” Will the right conclude that many more of these votes qualify as enemy action?
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 28, 2013