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Congress allows Violence Against Women Act to lapse

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding and grants for a variety of programs that tackle domestic abuse, lapsed at the end of Friday after Congress failed to pass an extension before leaving for its one-week recess.

Lawmakers squabbled over whether a clean extension of the landmark legislation, which was first signed into law in 1994, should be wrapped into a massive must-pass government funding deal that was signed by President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE on Friday.

But the language was ultimately left off, with Republicans accusing Democrats of playing politics in order to tack on additional partisan provisions.

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Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) attempted to force a vote on a clean extension during a procedural vote Thursday, which ultimately failed on the floor.

”For whatever misguided reason, Speaker Pelosi has decided to take a noncontroversial clean extension of the Violence Against Women Act as a bargaining chip,” a spokeswoman for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyMcCarthy sits for 'Green Eggs and Ham' reading: I 'still like' Dr. Seuss Chamber of Commerce clarifies stance on lawmakers who voted against election certification Watch live: McCarthy holds press briefing MORE (R-Calif.), said in an email Thursday.

“Speaker Pelosi will cause VAWA to expire tomorrow at midnight. And apparently, she is okay with that. During every funding agreement previously, Republicans have made sure VAWA did not expire.”

Democrats say current resources for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence will not be impacted by the expiration of the act, noting most programs are funded through the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

But should Congress fail to pass an extension in coming months, future grants and funding for resources including shelters, crisis centers and social service agencies could be impacted.

The omission of the act in the spending package that averted a government shutdown could provide Democrats with the opportunity to make reforms that weren’t possible under the Republican-controlled Congress last year.  

Reps. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip Obama says reparations 'justified' MORE (D-Texas), alongside Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump White House associate tied to Proud Boys before riot via cell phone data Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis MORE (D-Calif.), pushed for a version last year that would have extended the Violence Against Women Act for five years, but included what some Republicans felt were “controversial provisions.” 

GOP leadership instead opted to bring a clean, short-term extension to the floor to allow lawmakers to continue negotiations.

But the Jackson Lee bill could have a far better chance of being signed into law after Democrats took back control of the lower chamber this year. 

Democrat-backed changes to the act could potentially include an expansion of youth education and prevention programs as well as protections for Native American women — which was left out of the 2013 reauthorization.

It could also include protections for transgender people and stricter gun laws for those convicted of crimes related to domestic violence, a provision that proved to be a sticking point between the two parties during the last Congress.

A Democratic aide told The Hill that “a full reauthorization is expected to be introduced in March.”

Lesko said she hopes Democrats will be willing to work across the aisle in passing a bill both parties can support.

“As a survivor of domestic violence, I am deeply saddened that this critical legislation will expire,” she said in a statement.  

“Rather than supporting my clean extension of the existing law, Democrats voted last night to allow these programs and services to lapse. Although this saddens me, I hope my colleagues will work with me in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize such an important law for so many women and children in America very soon.”