Time for House Republicans to set aside partisan differences and join the Senate, which voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, writes U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
SINCE it was passed into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has provided lifesaving assistance to thousands of women and families across Washington state. For battered women, the law has been a refuge, providing shelter, justice and so often an escape from a life stunted by abuse.
One reason the law has worked so well in protecting a wide range of women is that, since its initial passage, every time Congress has reauthorized it, we have done so in a bipartisan way that extends its web of protections to new groups of women.
Today, however, the law’s bipartisan history and new protections for 30 million women are at risk.
It has now been more than 300 days since VAWA expired, a timeline that has also seen the deaths of more than 1,100 women due to domestic violence. The reason for inaction, as is too often the case in this Congress, has been partisan gridlock where for decades there has been agreement.
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In April, the Senate passed VAWA by a vote of 68-31, a rare bipartisan feat that included 15 Republicans. Included in that bill were new protections granted to women who had been left out of previous bills. Specifically, the bill included increased protections for women on college campuses after the brutal murder of Yeardley Love at the University of Virginia. It included new law-enforcement measures to protect women on our nation’s tribal reservations, a shocking one-in-three of whom will be raped in their lifetimes. It included protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals who had been unfairly omitted from previous bills. And it provided protections to immigrant women who are often scared into silence at the hands of their attackers.
But for the majority in the House of Representatives, passing a bill with lifesaving protections to these new groups of women was not politically palatable. So just weeks after the Senate passed our bill, House Republicans, in a blatantly political move, passed a bill that gives in to those on the far right and strips new protections for immigrants, the LGBT community and tribal women.
So today we are faced with what has become routine in this Congress: a stalemate. On one side stand 68 Senators, including staunch conservatives like Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who have chosen to be as inclusive as possible on a bill directed at saving lives. On the other side are House Republicans and a bill that strips away protections for the most vulnerable.
I’ll be the first to admit that on many issues in Congress there are fundamental political divides that are difficult to overcome. But this should not be one of them.
We should all be able to agree that where a person lives, their immigration status, or who they love should not determine whether perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice. Surely no police officer should ever have to ask the sexual orientation or immigration status of a woman who lies bruised and battered at the scene of a crime.
Frankly, it’s shameful that we have to fight Republicans in the House on this. It’s also telling that instead of being forthright about their objections to protecting new groups of women, Republicans have instead hidden behind procedural technicalities that are routinely overcome in Congress.
Their political games have taken a toll. Every moment the House continues to delay is another moment vulnerable women are left without protections they deserve.
Many of the women this bill protects have seen their lives torn apart by the cowardice of those who claimed to care for them. The only way we can help protect these women is to prove that we as a nation have the courage to stand up for them where others haven’t. That means showing them that discrimination has no place in our domestic-violence laws by passing an inclusive, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has represented Washington state in the U.S. Senate since 1993.