House on Target to Pass Violence Against Women Bill

Republicans split on House VAWA bill, clearing way for Senate version.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as she and other Democrats in the House push for the unrestricted reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., recounts her own history of being sexually assaulted during her childhood and then raped as a young woman as House Democrats push for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, May 16, 2012.

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It has been almost a year in the making, but the House of Representatives is scheduled to pass a new Violence Against Women's Act Thursday. And to some of the members' dismay, it's the Senate version many long opposed.

The Senate first passed the legislation to renew the landmark 1994 law in 2012, with wide bipartisan support. Republicans had varying reasons for thwarting the Senate legislation last year, citing concerns with how the bill addressed immigrants and handled abuses that occurred on tribal lands.

The legislation, which the Senate passed again at the beginning of the new Congress 78-22, in February, expands the 1994 Violence Against Women's Act by specifically outlining protections for immigrants and members of LBGT community, cutting down the backlog of untested rape kits, and going after non-Indian men who go to reservations and abuse their partners. Under current law, non-Indian men on reservations are usually not prosecuted for the crimes they commit because tribal courts cannot legally prosecute them, and federal law enforcement agencies do not prioritize the cases.

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Republicans had introduced their own version of VAWA last week that addressed the tribal lands issue differently. But the White House threatened to veto the bill because it did not contain specific provisions for members of the LBGT community or immigrants. GOP aides argue that the House bill did not specifically identify groups because everyone is protected equally under their law.

But Republicans within their own party were divided over whether to support the House bill, so leadership concluded it was time to move on with the bipartisan bill that already cleared the Senate and will easily make it to the president's desk.

Thursday, lawmakers in the House will first vote on the House version of the bill as an amendment to the Senate legislation. Republican aides expect it will fail, and then lawmakers will simply be left with the Senate bill option, which will add to the growing list of legislation that passes out of the House with more Democratic support than Republican votes.

Republican lawmakers say it's time to clear their plates of the issue, which Democrats used against them in the 2012 election with women voters.

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"I want this issue to be resolved. I want to get the Violence Against Women's Act to the president's desk," says Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent. "The Senate bill is a good bill, and it protects battered women."

Dent says "there was a lot" of Republican support for the Senate bill, and he expects dozens of GOP lawmakers to vote with Democrats to pass it.

"It might even be the right thing to do," Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole added, saying that passing VAWA would add a nice break to the story line that Washington cannot function.

Other lawmakers were still hoping that the House version of the legislation would pass.

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"It is a good bill, it is not a perfect bill," Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock said of the House bill. "I think our society has a responsibility to take care of the least among us, especially women who have been violated and need help."

Others, however, said they planned on voting against the bills out of frustration with the way leadership rushed the process, and brought the bill to the floor without going through the House Judiciary Committee.

"It should go through regular order," says Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador. "I know there are a lot of people that are upset about the process, not necessarily the language of the bill or anything."

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