Last week the House approved a bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize the bill, handing a victory to Obama and Senate Democrats.
"Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community," said Obama in a statement on the passage of the bill.
The Senate bill was approved in a bipartisan 286-138 vote. Every Democrat voted for the Senate bill, and they were joined by 87 Republicans; 138 GOP members voted against it.
The vote ended a year-long fight over the bill, which in prior years had been easily and quickly reauthorized.
Republicans had opposed the Senate bill in the last Congress, but a change to the law, as well as November election results, shifted the GOP stance. The updated bill did not make it easier for non-citizen victims of domestic violence to win visas. It also became clear that a House version of the bill would not pass.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) last week said the vote would help protect domestic violence victims who have so far not been covered under the VAWA program.
"This is a long delayed, hard won, and badly needed victory for millions of women, especially those who were told that they weren't worthy of VAWA's protections," she said. "It means that finally, after over 16 months of struggle, tribal women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and women on college campuses will have the tools and resources this life-saving bill provides."
Although Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was the only House GOP leader to vote against the Senate version, Biden — who authored the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994 — praised the Majority leader for allowing a vote on the Senate measure.
“He kept his word. He said he’d let the Congress speak,” Biden said. “He could have prevented this from coming to a vote under the ordinary rules that had been employed in the past. But he didn’t. So I want to probably hurt him, but I want to publicly thank him, because he kept his word. Where I come from, your word matters. Where I come from, your word matters.”
Before last week's vote Cantor encouraged members to support the House legislation, but did not discourage anyone from supporting the Senate bill.
“We want to make sure all women are safe and have access to resources they need to protect themselves, their children and their families,” Cantor said. “We want them to know that somebody is there and willing to help. And we want them to know that those who commit these horrendous crimes will be punished and not let go.”
—Pete Kasperowicz contributed.