To Serve and Protect

The Senate’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is political theater at its best (and worst).


Eileen Smith

Despite strong Republican opposition, the U.S. Senate approved the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday, just in time for senators’ well-deserved vacation. The renewal of an act that has always enjoyed bipartisan support would seem straightforward enough. The law, passed in 1994 under the Clinton administration, provides funding and grants to local law enforcement to combat domestic and sexual violence, as well as a myriad of programs and services. Why, then, did every Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, including Texas’ own John Cornyn, vote against the legislation in February? Because this time the Democrats sought to extend those protections to same-sex couples, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. Will the liberals stop at nothing to promote their radical agenda?

With last week’s announcement by the Romney campaign that the presumptive nominee—finally endorsed this week by Rick Perry!—supports the reauthorization of VAWA, Republican senators felt compelled to drop their opposition, punting instead to their more cunning counterparts in the U.S. House. But they still introduced their own version of the act, crafted by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (one of the few Republican women left in the Senate) and Chuck Grassley. The substitute would effectively strip the new provisions sought by Democrats.

In the Senate debate on Thursday, Hutchison claimed that VAWA already protects same-sex partners because of its gender-neutral language—it applies to male victims of abuse as well. The current law also provides visas for some illegal immigrants. What the Democrats want to do is expand and enhance these existing protections. Hutchison’s effort failed and she ended up voting for the Democrats’ version of the bill.

The Democratic version of VAWA ensures that a victim of abuse cannot be denied services based on sexual orientation and increases the number of visas for undocumented female immigrants. A new provision would expand the ability of Native American officials to prosecute domestic abuse occurring on their reservations. Apparently this attempt to help curb domestic abuse by making the law more inclusive is just an underhanded ploy to help President Obama win the election.

In an op-ed last week in the Houston Chronicle, Cornyn accused Democrats of shamelessly trying to use the law as a “partisan football to score cheap political points and raise campaign funds.” Meanwhile Cornyn introduced the Justice for Victims Amendment, which, among other things, would increase funding for rape kits and strengthen existing penalties for domestic violence and sexual abuse. Whether this is just another “partisan football” is hard to say. In the Senate debate Sen. Patrick Leahy, the sponsor of the bill, warned that Cornyn’s amendment would undermine existing measures. (The amendment failed.)

Earlier this week Cornyn told The Hill that he had “every confidence” that VAWA would pass the Senate and that he didn’t expect any problems. Maybe not from any other senators. The junior senator from Texas ended up voting no.

Now the bill goes to the House, where Republicans are planning to introduce their own version (try to keep up), modeled after the Hutchison-Grassley alternative, when the bill is brought to the House floor sometime in mid-May.

Get ready for the War on Women to get much more interesting.