Seventeen House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor last night, begging the GOP bigwigs to make up for last session and quickly reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Like last year, the GOP is fixated on the issue of tribal jurisdiction. The latest version of VAWA would give Native Americans the ability to prosecute domestic abuse that occurs on reservations in tribal courts, even when the accused is non-Native. (Such cases are currently under federal and state jurisdiction.) Republicans think changing it would raise concerns of tribal sovereignty and constitutional rights so complex — we couldn’t possibly understand — that it’s not worth closing the loophole that repeat offenders knowingly exploit.
Ohio Republican Representative Tom Cole, who has been leading negotiations, summed it up nicely, reports the New York Times:
“Let’s just talk politics here. This will have passed the Senate. The president’s for it. And we’re holding up a domestic violence bill that should be routine because you don’t want to help Native women who are the most vulnerable over a philosophical point?”
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley proposed a scaled-back version of VAWA that would swap the expanded jurisdiction for some redirected federal funds dedicated to prosecuting domestic abuse. It was voted down on Thursday. Today, the Senate is expected to easily pass the complete version with bipartisan support. [Update: Check! The bill passed 78-22, with all votes against the bill coming from Republican men, including Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Mitch McConnell.] Also unpopular among the House GOP are its new protections for LGBT and undocumented immigrant survivors.
Without going into specifics, the House Republicans’ letter shamed their fellow congressmen for being so intractable that Podunk state legislators were picking up their slack. “It is unfortunate that states are already preparing for Congress’ inaction,” they wrote. “In New Jersey, for example, the state legislature recently passed a bridge fund bill to fill the void left by a lack of federal funds in the event VAWA is not reauthorized.”
Maybe it’s time they brought in House-GOP-shamer-in-chief Chris Christie.