Domestic violence new target in ‘war against women’

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats fired the latest political shot in what they’re calling the Republican “war against women” Thursday, pushing to renew and expand a law that fights violence against women and pays to help victims. They dared GOP senators to vote against it.

“Protecting women against violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said from the Senate floor, where a group of female senators spoke in favor of the legislation.

Money for the Violence Against Women Act has been widely supported by lawmakers of both parties since the law was first signed in 1994. But the timing of the 2012 Senate debate is unmistakably political. It comes at the height of an election year in which the presidency and the congressional majorities are at stake. And it fits neatly into the Democrats’ overarching campaign theme that Republicans aren’t standing up for women on contraception, abortion rights, health insurance and now domestic violence.

While grappling for a way to rebut the “war on women” narrative, Republicans said the legislation at issue would add objectionable measures to violence against women law.

Two weeks ago, Republicans narrowly lost a Senate vote on trying to reverse President Barack Obama’s directive that health insurers pay for the cost of birth control pills or devices even if they object on moral or religious grounds.

Republicans criticized Democrats for making a scene Thursday on the Senate floor without having so much as scheduled a vote. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell complained that the issue distracted from a small business bill that could create jobs.

“Their plan isn’t to work together to make it easier to create jobs but to look for ways to make it easier to keep their own, then use it for campaign ads in the run-up to the November elections,” said McConnell, who has voted for the Violence Against Women Act in the past.

The act, which would add government funding and legal muscle to the fight against domestic violence, has been reauthorized several times and this year has 58 co-sponsors — two senators short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. The co-sponsors include five Republicans: Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Also signed onto the bill is Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is on leave recovering from a stroke.

This year’s update has run into opposition from Republicans who object to new provisions, such as one that includes gay and transgender victims in the protections. Republicans also object to a provision regarding visas for immigrant victims.

The measure also would give Native American tribes authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit violence against American Indian women, which raises concern among some opponents about giving tribal courts increased power over defendants who are not tribal members. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that tribes do not have authority over people who are not American Indian, even when the crime takes place on a reservation and involves a member of a tribe.

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