House votes to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act
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Coinciding with women's history month, the House passed legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and to remove the 1982 deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
House Democratic women dressed in suffragette white to commemorate the occasion and to usher through what they say are landmark pieces of legislation to advance women's rights.
"It's wonderful to put our enthusiasm into action, into legislation to make a difference in the lives of the American people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said at a news conference before the measures passed.
But the female-focused legislation exposed stark differences between Democratic and Republican women who spoke out strongly on the House floor in opposition to the pair of bills designed to curb domestic violence and to support equal rights for women in the constitution.
The House has more GOP women than ever before at 30 members thanks to a history-making freshman class of conservative lawmakers, and several argued the Democrats' version of the Violence Against Women's Act bill was too partisan and ignored their concerns.
"[Democrats] have denied new members opportunities to contribute to the bill, including a record number of new Republican women ... whose own lives and districts have been deeply affected by these issues," said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who opposed the bill over new Second Amendment restrictions and more.
FILE: UNITED STATES - JANUARY 27: Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., walks through the Senate Reception Room before the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
The House passed the extension to the Equal Rights Amendment deadline in a largely party-line vote of 222-204, with just four Republicans joining Democrats. House Democrats then ushered in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act Wednesday by a 244 to 172 vote, with the support of 29 Republicans.
President Biden introduced the original Violence Against Women Act in June 1990 when serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A subsequent version was eventually included in a sweeping crime bill that President Bill Clinton would sign into law four years later. Congress has reauthorized VAWA three times since.
The bill created the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department, which has awarded more than $9 billion in grants to state and local governments, nonprofits and universities over the years. The grants fund crisis intervention programs, transitional housing and legal assistance to victims, among other programs. Supporters said the reauthorization would also boost spending for training law enforcement and the courts.
"This bill leaves no victim behind," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
But Republicans objected to new protections for transgendered individuals and a prohibition on people previously convicted of misdemeanor stalking from possessing firearms, which the National Rifle Association opposes.
In this Jan. 4, 2021, photo, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., center, stands with other GOP freshmen during an event at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said the legislation violates religious liberty and promotes "gender dysphoria."
"This [legislation] is something that should protect women," Greene said. "Unfortunately, the Violence Against Women Act has expanded its protection beyond women and girls into transgender or biological males who are calling them women. Democrats know this is a bad policy and agenda. They have to hide behind real abused women."
Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., said Democrats turned the Violence Against Women Act into a "highly partisan distortion" of the original bill with their "progressive wish list."
"The bill extends the law’s protections to persons ‘of any gender,’ drives needed resources away from combatting crimes against women, promotes an unproven ‘restorative justice’ approach, and erodes religious liberties," said Fischbach, who led floor debate on the opposition.
The other measure the House approved Wednesday on the Equal Rights Amendment faced bitter opposition from conservatives, who say it could be used as a legal tool to fight state efforts to curb abortion.
"If ratified, the ERA would be used to codify the right to abortion, undoing pro-life protections and forcing taxpayers to fund abortions," warned Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.