House races

Southerland says he still hasn’t read VAWA

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) has said he opposed, on principle, a more expansive version of the Violence Against Women Act that ultimately became law because he was blindsided by the bill and didn’t have a chance to read it.

{mosads}In a sit-down with the editorial board of the Tallahassee Democrat last week, Southerland suggested the scheduling of the vote was a “political maneuver,” and said he voted against it because “I’m not going to allow a topic of such great importance be hijacked over someone wanting to score political points.”

Despite its apparent importance, however, Southerland said he still hasn’t read the measure in full, because “it doesn’t matter … it’s law”

“The horse is out of the barn. I mean, it’s gone, OK? And I didn’t have a chance to read it,” he said.

His comments are sure to provide fodder for Democratic attacks on his record on women’s issues, and his tone toward women more generally. Democrats have already pointed to a men-only fundraiser held for his campaign, and his comparison of the event with a “lingerie shower,” as evidence he’s sexist. Southerland has rejected those claims.

But the issue could be contributing to his vulnerability in his reelection fight with Democrat Gwen Graham. He’s taking the arguments seriously enough that, this week, he rolled out an ad featuring his wife and daughters defending his record on women’s issues. 

During his meeting with the Tallahassee Democrat, Southerland noted that he had twice before voted to reauthorize VAWA but that the Senate version of the law came down for a vote in the House with no warning. He decried this as a “political maneuver.”

“The bill that was put on the floor, the last VAWA vote, came straight from the Senate, was thrown on the floor. It was a surprise, it wasn’t given to us in a — there was no forecast that that bill was coming,” he said.

The Senate version of the bill included expanded protections for illegal immigrants and same-sex couples that drew criticism from conservatives; it ultimately passed with bipartisan support, 286-138.

Southerland said he felt it was necessary to have the time to “do our due diligence” and allow legislative staffers to study a law before making a decision either way.

“I think that’s what the American people expect from us. I know that’s certainly an expectation that I have on myself,” Southerland said, adding that he wouldn’t support “any bill that I don’t have an opportunity to study, to read, and get a briefing on, and to ask questions” about during committee.

There was, however, considerable media attention paid to the bill; at least two hours of floor debate before it came up for a vote; a letter from Southerland’s GOP colleagues in the House urging passage; and more than two weeks between passage of the Senate bill and its consideration on the House floor.

Southerland’s campaign did not respond to a request for further comment. 

Tags FL-2 Gwen Graham Steve Southerland
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