The Republican-led House on Wednesday approved in a mostly partisan 222-205 vote its own version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting Democratic requests to also permit a vote on the version passed in the Senate with bipartisan support.
Just six of the 188 Democrats who voted joined in support of the GOP bill.
Of 239 Republicans voting, only 23 opposed it, including Reps. Judy Biggert of Illinois and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
The House’s action sets the stage for what is likely to be weeks or even months more of election-year political maneuvering on the legislation. There was uncertainty on Wednesday night over how soon the two chambers might try to work toward agreement on a finalized bill in conference, if at all.
The White House already has called the House Republicans’ bill unacceptable and has threatened a veto by President Obama should that version land on his desk.
Central to the battle is that the House Republican bill omits expanded protections contained in the Senate-passed version (which passed with the support of 15 Republicans) for domestic violence victims who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, as well as for Native Americans and immigrants.
The House bill has drawn fierce opposition from some women’s and other advocacy groups, and even some law-enforcement organizations. Late-hour revisions to the bill on Tuesday night in a managers amendment did not much mollify that opposition, which Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Wednesday totals more than 300 groups.
But both sides have accused the other of playing politics with legislation that first passed Congress in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support.
Republicans say Democrats added hot-button issues to the bill in order to create a fight and be able to accuse the GOP of a war against women. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the aim for Republicans was to stay away from “issues that divide us.”
In a statement after the vote, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “We owe all Americans – and especially the victims of domestic violence – a more honest and responsible approach. I urge Senate Democrats to put the political games aside and come to the table to work out our differences so this critical legislation can be sent to the president for his signature.”
Republicans have said that includes explicit protections for classes of people based on sexual orientation, because, they argue, everyone is already protected under VAWA. Republicans also rejected granting tribal courts limited jurisdiction over cases of domestic violence alleged against non-Indians on reservations. More generally, Republicans say their bill would bring better oversight and evaluation to domestic-violence programs already in place.
"I would say that we are more concerned against violence against women.... We want to see the money spent better,” said House Rules Committee member Virginia Fox, R-N.C., during the floor debate on Wednesday.
But Democrats say that each time VAWA has been reauthorized previously, more protections have been added. And they repeatedly have noted that every woman Republican senator voted for the Senate bill.
The battle over the legislation in the House featured lead roles for Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., as sponsor of the House GOP bill and someone who describes herself as having personally faced domestic abuse, and Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., who led much of the Democratic floor debate on the rule for the bill, and who described herself on Wednesday to reporters as having been a rape victim.