Republicans Struggle to Renew Violence Against Women Act

GOP leaders tried to move a short-term extension of the bill months ago to avoid making it an election issue, but Democrats demanded a full reauthorization.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi talk before a bicentennial celebration of Frederick Douglass' birthday Feb. 14.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Sept. 19, 2018, 8 p.m.

Facing an already-sizeable gender gap on the generic ballot, a president unpopular among women and a Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault, congressional Republicans may have wanted to refrain from policy that could further alienate women.

Yet in the case of the Violence Against Women Act, GOP leaders find themselves in yet another policy bind. Due to conservative objections to the bill’s substance, leaders need Democratic votes. Democrats, however, are in no mood to dole out those votes for free.

With an election around the corner, Democrats are eager to draw attention to Republican troubles passing a bill meant to deter violent crimes against women and are demanding a full reauthorization of the program, as well as some policy changes.

In a Monday letter to Speaker Paul Ryan. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote that the absence of a long-term bill is “shocking and shameful” and represents an “abdication of our responsibilities to women in our country.”

“We urge Republicans to end their assault on the rights and safety of women,” Pelosi added.

Democrats believe they are playing their hand shrewdly, adding proof to their case that women, the demographic du jour in this year’s midterm elections, should not vote for Republicans.

Instead, Republican leaders have added an extension through Dec. 7 into a must-pass package of appropriations bills that will be votes on next week. Yet that is something leaders could have done long ago, when there was less on the line, a House GOP leadership aide said.

Earlier this summer, House Republican leaders pushed to include a 90-day extension of the measure in the National Defense Authorization Act, if for no other reason than to ensure the issue does not become a political hot potato a mere month before voters cast their ballots and decide who should control Congress.

The idea, however, did not gain traction among either Senate Republicans or House Democrats, and because House GOP leaders did not have the votes to pass the measure with only House Republicans, the idea fizzled. Conservatives have long opposed the measure as a misuse of federal resources, and specifically oppose provisions in the bill that protect same-sex couples and battered undocumented immigrants.

Pelosi signaled in her letter that Democrats would not let government funding lapse, even if it meant tepidly supporting a short-term VAWA extension. Meanwhile, they are pushing a full extension with added provisions that would offer housing grants to victims and create Violence Against Women director position at the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Moderate and politically endangered Republicans are pushing from the other side. Last week, Rep. Elise Stefanik filed legislation that would extend current policy for six months, after she and 45 other Republicans wrote a letter to Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking that an extension come to the floor before its Sept. 30 expiration date.

But it is guaranteed that when the House comes back from recess next week, and Republicans want to focus on passing appropriations bills under regular order or promoting their tax law or anything but their inability to pass VAWA, it will be all that Democrats will want to talk about.

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