House passes reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act

The House voted Thursday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, but the bill faces an unlikely future in the Senate where negotiators are working on their own version.

The vote was 263-158, with 33 Republicans joining Democrats to pass it.

The law lapsed earlier this year after Democrats declined to extend it, wanting to pass their own reauthorization for another five years instead. VAWA programs, though, are technically still being funded.

Republicans objected to the bill Thursday for several reasons, including the inclusion of protections for transgender people and a provision that would prohibit those convicted of certain misdemeanor charges from purchasing firearms.

While the existing law already has protections for transgender individuals in shelters and housing, the new bill would add protections in prisons, allowing transgender individuals to stay in facilities for the gender with which they identify.

Republicans spent time on the House floor objecting to both the existing and new protections, pointing repeatedly to a case last year in California where women alleged a transgender resident sexually harassed them at a women’s shelter. Democrats disputed facts in the case and argued there was by and large no evidence that transgender residents cause problems at women’s shelters.

Republicans also took issue with the bill’s lifetime ban on individuals convicted of misdemeanor charges of stalking or domestic abuse on purchasing firearms — language that has strong pushback from the National Rifle Association, which views it as an attempt by Democrats to advance their gun control agenda.

In response, Democrats argue they’re trying to close a loophole in current gun laws.

“If you are against taking guns away from perpetrators, if you are for stripping the provisions that protect the most vulnerable women within our communities, then you have joined that group of people who want to silence … victims,” Rep. Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, said at a news conference after the bill passed.

GOP lawmakers also argue the bill limits law enforcement tools to investigate and prosecute domestic violence, and that it promotes a type of mediation that could put the victim and abuser in close proximity.

Both sides accused each other of playing politics with the bill and the sensitive issue of domestic abuse. Shortly before it was passed, Republicans made a last-minute motion to pass another clean extension of VAWA, but their motion was defeated.

“Ending violence against women and protecting women and children should not be a partisan issue. But unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats have made it a partisan issue. They have refused to work with Republicans in a meaningful way,” said Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who added the House bill will do nothing but “collect dust” in the GOP-controlled Senate.

On the Senate side, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst are working on a Senate version that aims to be more bipartisan.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.