WASHINGTON — Helped by dissent among Republicans, the U.S. House on Thursday ended a 16-month standoff with the Senate to renew the Violence Against Women Act.
The passage — by a 286-138 vote, with 87 Republicans siding with a unanimous Democratic caucus — came immediately after the House voted down a less-expansive version of the domestic-violence bill offered by Spokane’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chamber’s highest-ranking Republican woman.
It marked a retreat by the House GOP’s conservative faction, which for more than a year had resisted a floor vote on the measure — twice passed by the Senate.
The legislation, which President Obama has said he will sign, expands protection for gays and lesbians, and gives tribal courts for the first time the power to prosecute non-Indians accused of assault on tribal lands.
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It also authorizes some $659 million a year over five years to fund current programs that provide grants for transitional housing, legal assistance, law-enforcement training and hotlines.
The measure adds stalking to the list of crimes that make immigrants eligible for protection and authorizes programs dealing with sexual assault on college campuses and with efforts to reduce the backlog in rape-kit analyses. It reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The alternative bill carried by McMorris Rodgers went down Thursday 257-166, with 59 Republicans voting against it. That version did not explicitly grant protection to non-straight couples and diluted tribal jurisdiction over offenders who are not Native Americans.
Even as they hailed its passage, Democrats bemoaned the delay in renewing the law. The last authorization of the Violence Against Women Act expired in September 2011. The law was originally enacted in 1994, and it is credited with changing criminal handling and cultural attitudes toward spousal assaults, date rapes, stalking and other offenses.
Sen. Patty Murray, who arrived in Congress in 1993 just as the debate on domestic violence was unfolding, said she found it inexplicable that legislation Congress had approved three times previously with wide bipartisan support was stalled for so long.
“The tea party was absolutely opposed to it,” Murray said. “To run up against the roadblock this time has been astounding to me when you’re talking about protecting women in this country.”
The legislative blockade was one exhibit for Democrats’ accusation that Republicans were waging a “war against women,” along with the GOP’s opposition to a pay-parity act for women and contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Since then, Democratic seat gains in the House and the Senate in last November’s elections have helped chip away the GOP’s resistance.
The blockade also pitted House Republicans against some of their own members, including those who favored the expanded authority for tribal governments. And it put McMorris Rodgers and her fellow House GOP leaders at odds with Senate Republicans, more than half of whom voted last month in favorof the Democratic domestic-violence bill.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., led the opposition to the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act. He helped draft an alternative bill, which was rolled out last Friday. That bill, technically an amendment to the Senate bill, was shepherded on the floor by McMorris Rodgers, who as the House Republican conference chair is its No. 4 leader.
A spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers said she was unavailable for comment but issued a statement saying “Republicans remain committed to protecting all women against acts of domestic violence.”
McMorris Rodgers previously said current domestic-violence law offered adequate protection for victims. She also had accused Democrats of inserting the provision for gays and lesbians as a political stunt.
But in the end, McMorris Rodgers joined 86 other Republicans in voting for the Senate version. All six House Democrats from Washington’s congressional delegation also voted yes, as did Republicans Dave Reichert of Auburn and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas.
The lone exception was Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco. Hastings said constitutional protections don’t apply in tribal court.
Seattle Times staff reporter Lynda V. Mapes and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org