Washington – The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and expand its reach to American Indians and homosexuals, after Republicans opted to sidestep an expected partisan brawl.
But a political fight still looms when the House takes up a version of the legislation next month that is shorn of the hot-button issues added in the Senate.
The final vote, 68 to 31, including 15 Republicans, belied the partisan maneuvering that preceded Senate action on the bill, which extended landmark legislation first passed in 1994 to give courts and law enforcement new tools to combat domestic violence.
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The latest version — the third reauthorization since 2000 — followed tradition and was drafted by a Democrat, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, and a Republican, Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho. But it ran into a wall of Republican opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and cleared the committee in February without a Republican vote.
Amid partisan brawls over abortion and contraception, some Democrats saw the Violence Against Women Act as the next battle in what they framed as a Republican “war on women.” But Senate Republicans did not rise to the bait. Republican senators like John Cornyn of Texas made clear their concerns, but even before amendments to address those concerns were voted on, many of the same senators who had expressed reservations signaled that they would vote for the bill, regardless of whether it was changed. No Republicans spoke out against it before the final tally.
“I intend to vote for the underlying bill even with its flaws,” Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas announced even as she pressed for changes, including one that would limit advertising on Backpage.com, a Web site that has an “adult services” section.
If there are to be fireworks, they will have to come when the Senate version comes up against the House’s. House Republican women this week announced that they would introduce a version of the violence act when they return from next week’s recess, with a final House vote expected by mid-May.
The House bill is likely to be stripped of three provisions that have incensed some conservatives. One would subject non-Indian suspects of domestic violence to prosecution before tribal courts for crimes allegedly committed on reservations. Another would expand the number of temporary visas for illegal immigrant victims of domestic violence. The last would expand Violence Against Women Act protections to gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse.
“We’re not going to be looking at the controversial issues,” said Representative Sandy Adams of Florida, who is the main sponsor of the impending House bill.
Republicans say the American Indian courts provision could deny due process in some cases and could be ruled unconstitutional. They suggested Democrats were stealthily expanding “amnesty” to some illegal immigrants while pursuing pro-homosexual social policy under the guise of domestic violence legislation.
Stripping out those provisions, Mr. Leahy responded, “would result in abandoning some of the most vulnerable victims … battered immigrants, Native women and victims in same-sex relationships.”
Mostly, however, Republican leaders accused Democrats of adding those provisions to the reauthorization expressly to pick a fight for political advantage. But it is unclear how potent those concerns will be. Only 36 senators voted Thursday for the version shorn of those measures.
For some conservative groups, however, even the core of the nearly 20-year-old law was unacceptable. The Concerned Women for America and Independent Women’s Forum had said the law had devolved into a “slush fund” for feminist causes that harms men unfairly and encourages the dissolution of marriages.
But from the beginning, many Republicans were declining to take up that cause. The legislation had five Republican co-sponsors, including Mr. Crapo, at its introduction. The two Republican senators facing the toughest re-election races, Dean Heller of Nevada and Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, quickly signed on.
Democratic protests aside, the bill’s passage was secured well before the final vote was called when eight Republicans signed on as co-sponsors. The final vote was supported not only by moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, but also by Republican stalwarts like John McCain of Arizona and unflinching conservatives like David Vitter of Louisiana.
This article, “Senate Votes to Reauthorize Domestic Violence Act,” originally appeared in The New York Times.