House GOP leaders set to hand Senate Dems victory on VAWA

House Republican leaders are set to hand a victory to Senate Democrats on Thursday with the expected passage of a Senate-approved reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

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Led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Republicans in the House had worked for months on their own version of the bill. But lawmakers and aides said Wednesday the leadership realized this week that, amid unified Democratic opposition, the GOP proposal was unlikely to gain the 217 votes needed to pass.

Republican leaders late Tuesday set up a process to bring the Senate bill to the House floor on Thursday and offer their proposal as a substitute amendment. If that amendment fails, the House will vote on — and likely pass — the Senate measure, sending it to President Obama’s desk.

The move angered some conservative Republicans, and it means that for the third time in the last two months, the House will pass a significant piece of legislation with minority Democrats carrying the vote.

“It’s a huge concern,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) told reporters at a conservative press event Tuesday. He and other members were particularly worried, he said, that it was “becoming the norm” for the House to accept bills from the Senate without moving a Republican version.

The issue underscores the difficulty Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has had in navigating between pressure from conservatives on his right and the White House and Senate Democrats on his left.

Labrador and other conservatives complained that by skipping the committees of jurisdiction, Boehner was bypassing the “regular order” process he had recommitted to at the outset of the 113th Congress.

But while Boehner has sought to pursue regular order on budgetary matters and immigration reform, among other issues, he has also told Republicans that the party must pick its battles with the “Democratic majority” in Washington.

Democrats have been hammering Republicans for months over the bill after Obama won big with female voters in the November election.

“It started to turn into a political issue rather than getting the policy right,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

Democrats cheered the decisions, and joined Republicans on Wednesday in supporting a procedural motion to set up the votes for Thursday.

The GOP aide said Republicans would still have an opportunity to pass a House version on Thursday and set up a conference committee with the Senate, but Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said the expected failure of the House bill would serve as a lesson to conservatives who have routinely bucked the leadership.

“There’s a little bit of a lesson to the conference in that, that maybe you guys need to learn to work together and get to 218,” Cole said. “Your fights and differences amongst yourselves are so pronounced that you’re losing the ability to influence the larger legislation.

“So it’s a teachable moment for the Republican Conference,” added Cole, who planned to vote against the House bill but in favor of the Senate version.

The Senate passed its bill earlier this month on a bipartisan vote of 78-22.

The two versions are broadly similar, but provisions involving the treatment of tribal lands and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues were sticking points throughout the process. The House and Senate bickered for months in 2012 over the issue.

The Senate passed a similar bipartisan bill, but House Republicans refused to take it up over concerns that the legislation violated the Constitution by raising revenue without originating in the House.

The House passed its own bill, but Senate Democrats would not enter formal negotiations on its measure, which had the support of many Republicans and domestic violence advocacy groups.

The Senate scrapped the revenue provisions in this year’s version, as advocates plan to insert them into immigration legislation later in the year.

Many House Republicans opposed the expanded protections for Native American victims in the Senate bill, while Native American tribes opposed more restrictive provisions in the House bill as an infringement on their sovereignty.

Cole, a Native American member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to forge a compromise on the tribal provisions, but they could not get a vote on their amendment. Without the change, Cole said he preferred the Senate bill.

Cantor declined to comment as he left a closed-door House GOP Conference meeting, where several members complained to the leadership about its handling of the Violence Against Women Act.

“I think they want the bill dealt with,” Cole said of the party leadership.

He praised the decision to allow for up-or-down votes on both versions, saying it was a way of following Boehner’s promise to let the House “work its will.”

“I think that’s a pretty adult way to deal with a conference that on this issue is pretty fractious and pretty divided,” Cole said. “The Democrats have held their unity, and that gives them enormous leverage in this case.”

While the current House GOP bill did not go through committee in the new Congress, a leadership aide said it was an updated version of legislation that did follow the regular order process last year.

“I think that we’ve all worked very hard to try to find a bill that would get maximum amount of support, and the decision’s been made and we’re moving forward,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Violence Against Women Act.