J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Republicans set up a showdown Wednesday with the Senate and President Barack Obama over legislation to protect women from domestic violence, a fight that's become as much about female voters this election year as cracking down on abuse.
The House voted 222-205 to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act for five years, as the Senate already had done. But big differences remain: Obama, other Democrats and a long list of advocacy groups say the House bill doesn't go far enough to protect abused immigrants, Native Americans or gays. Republicans say their bill does more to protect taxpayers from fraud and maintains the constitutionality of law enforcement procedures on Indian land.
It's unclear whether the differences will be reconciled before the November elections, or whether the bills will be used as campaign weapons.
But a pair of domestic violence survivors who fell on opposite sides of the debate reminded their House colleagues that for them and other abused women it's about far more than politics.
"The man I married had a penchant for drinking and was very violent when he drank," the bill's sponsor, freshman Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., said during floor debate.
Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore recalled what it was like to try to press charges against her rapist in the days before the law's passage.
"I took him to court (but) indeed, I was on trial," Moore said. "I had to prove, as a victim, that I was not being fraudulent in my accusations. They brought up how I was an unwed mother with a baby. Maybe I seduced him. They talked about how I was dressed."
But in Washington this presidential and congressional election year, every issue is pressed for political advantage, even the government's main domestic violence-fighting law twice reauthorized with broad bipartisan support. Women account for the vast majority of domestic violence victims. They also account for the majority of voters in presidential election years and a critical bloc Democrats have tried to maintain in 2012 by accusing Republicans of waging a "war against women."
In a veto message issued late Tuesday before the House voted, the White House said the GOP-written bill takes "direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault" and jeopardizes victims by placing them "directly in harm's way."
Following the vote, Vice President Joe Biden said, "I urge Congress to come together to pass a bipartisan measure that protects all victims."
The 1994 anti-violence law provides millions of dollars to programs such as legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing aid and youth prevention programs. Its 2005 reauthorization expired last year.
Majority Democrats in the Senate would expand the law to specifically protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Americans from discrimination and abuse in a move many Republicans saw as a provocation to vote against a bill approved without objection previously. Senate Republicans also objected to Democratic provisions in the bill that would give tribal authorities the power to prosecute non-Indians for abuse committed on tribal lands, saying it was unconstitutional because the accused would have no role in shaping laws that could be used against them.
The Senate bill passed, 68-31, last month, with 15 Republicans voting yes.
Six Democrats voted for the House bill Wednesday: Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
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