Women's groups scathing at attempts of group led by Marco Rubio to to derail reauthorisation of Violence Against Women Act
The US Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation reauthorising the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday, despite the efforts of a group of Republican men who tried to block it.
Florida senator Marco Rubio, who will deliver the official GOP response to the state of the union address on Tuesday night, led a group of 22 male Republicans who voted against the bill, which established a system for helping women in danger from domestic violence. No women or Democrats opposed the bill and it passed 78-22. It will now head to the House, where Republican leaders are resisting some of its provisions.
Republicans had threatened to block VAWA, which is generally renewed every five years, over new amendments which would introduce protections for undocumented immigrants, LGBT people and those living on Native American reservations.
House Republicans proposed a weaker version of the law last year but the House and Senate were unable to agree on an acceptable version and it was allowed to expire. It had previously been renewed in 2000 and 2005.
Before the vote, the bill's main sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, questioned why anyone would vote against a bill that just expands protections to vulnerable groups.
"It is difficult to understand why people would come in here and try to limit which victims could be helped by this legislation," Leahy said, according to the Huffington Post. "If you're the victim, you don't want to think that a lot of us who have never faced this kind of problem, sat here in this body and said, 'Well, we have to differentiate which victims America will protect.'"
The bill was first introduced in 1994 to strengthen services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, introduce stiffer penalties for perpetrators and guarantee women access to civil proceedings if prosecutions do not go ahead. It introduced the National Domestic Violence Hotline, made stalking illegal, and helped reduce the number of murders by partners.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Rubio said that though he continues to support programmes "to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking", he did not support all elements of the expanded bill. He objected to programmes that would divert funding from domestic violence to sexual assault programmes.
Women's groups were scathing about Rubio's attempts to derail the bill and said that it would cause problems for the Republican party among women voters, a key demographic that deserted them in the last election.
Susan Scanlan, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which has 12 million members, said: "Can you believe it? Sixty-two co-sponsors. It passes overwhelmingly. Domestic violence and violence against women is a scourge, especially in Florida. He voted against a bill that has been a bipartisan effort since 1994. What is he thinking?"
She added: "This is an across-the-board issue. They have got it in for women again. Why pick a fight over something which is so important to families?"
Scanlan dismissed Rubio's comments that he objected to elements of the bill. "It seems to me that he is squibbling. It is terribly disappointing, I certainly think it will cause the Republican party more problems with the 53% of the nation that are women."
Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, described his comments as disingenuous. O'Neill said: "Rubio's excuse is that it would divert funding. Well, where's his amendment to improve the funding overall? Clearly he is disingenuous."
O'Neill said that VAWA is a highly cost-effective way of reducing violence by providing services to victims and to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
"Marco Rubio has national aspirations," she said. "His vote against the bill is a demonstration that the Republican party at the highest level is in the grip of a radical fringe. He has altered his stance on immigration since the 2012 election. It's very striking that the same gentleman does not understand that the Republican party has the same problem with women voters and in the 2012 election, the Republican party also had a problem with women over rape."
Two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John Cornyn of Texas, attempted to build amendments to VAWAl that would rid it of the protections offered to Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT victims but they were voted down. ThinkProgress published a picture of all 22 senators who opposed the vote.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement: "We applaud the Senate for taking action to pass a long overdue reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and urge the House of Representatives to follow suit. There are few pieces of legislation that have delivered as greatly on their promise as the Violence Against Women Act. Any additional delay of its passage is deeply out of touch with the needs of women across the country."