Dem leaders urge vote on Senate VAWA bill

Behind Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democratic leaders on Tuesday intensified their calls for GOP leaders to consider anti-domestic-violence legislation that passed the Senate this month with overwhelming bipartisan support.

House Republicans have offered their own version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which could reach the floor as early as Wednesday. But Democrats have rejected that proposal outright because it excludes Senate language offering specific protections for immigrants, Native Americans and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

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Flanked by sexual assault victims and advocates for stronger protections, Pelosi said Tuesday that the House version is "a non-starter," and Democratic leaders are whipping members to vote against it.

"The bill leaves many victims without prevention, … protection or defense against violence, omits protections for the LGBT community, offers inadequate protection for Native Americans and creates added hurdles for immigrant women," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. The provisions left out of the House bill, she added, are those benefitting the "people who need these protections the most."

Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are "steamrolling through legislation that picks and chooses which victims are deserving of protection."

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) piled on, accusing GOP leaders of taking a step back in time to the days when not everyone in the United States had equal rights.

"America has a history of not protecting all of our people all of the time," Hoyer said. "We are trying continuously to overcome the exclusion of some [people]."

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), lead sponsor of the Democrats' VAWA bill, was less reserved. Herself a victim of sexual abuse, Moore accused GOP leaders of "foot-dragging" on the issue and "gutting" some of the central protections contained in the Senate bill.

"As a woman, and as a woman of color, I am filled with rage about what has happened," Moore said. "How can we justify turning battered women away because of their sexual orientation? … How can we throw our Native American women under the bus?"

Among the major sticking points, the Senate bill would give tribal authorities jurisdiction over non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on tribal land – jurisdiction they don't currently have.

Backed by some conservative groups, House Republicans worry that subjecting non-Native Americans to tribal courts might violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, and they excluded that language from their bill. Still, GOP leaders argue that their version protects all women, despite its differing language.

The Democrats disagree.

Noting that Native American women suffer sexual violence at rates much higher than the rest of the country, Moore on Tuesday said the "jurisdiction gap" is a contributing factor.

"The perpetrators know that there's a gap in jurisdiction and that they can rape them and beat them and batter them with impunity, as long as it's done on tribal lands," she said.

Laura Dunn, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and a victim of sexual assault, urged House Republicans to include language requiring colleges and universities to develop strategies for preventing and reporting campus assaults. The Senate bill includes such a provision, but the House bill does not.

"Ending domestic assault is not about politics," Dunn said. "Ending violence against women is about justice – justice for victims like me."