House Republicans are revising their proposal to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, but not enough to satisfy President Barack Obama and other Democrats intent on preserving their lead among female voters in this volatile election year.
In a veto message hours before lawmakers were to vote, the White House said the GOP-written bill doesn't go far enough to protect battered illegal immigrants, Native Americans or gays.
The GOP proposals, which differ from the Senate-passed version, "take direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault," and "jeopardize victims by placing them directly in harm's way," the White House said.
The overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women — a crucial constituency this presidential and congressional election year and one without which Obama would not be president. The renewal of the act, reauthorized twice with overwhelming bipartisan support, is the latest example of partisan warfare this year over women's issues that have won wide agreement in the past.
The Violence Against Women Act was established in 1994 to provide taxpayer money for the prevention of domestic abuse and the protection of victims. The last reauthorization, in 2005, expired in 2011.
Sensing political gain by bringing up the reauthorization in an election year, majority Democrats in the Senate expanded it 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 in the past.
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, with 15 Republicans voting yes.
A Republican-written House version, now revised, is strongly opposed by an armada of advocacy groups for women, gays and Native Americans.
It omits the Senate's references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders and does not allow Native American authorities to prosecute non-Indians who commit abuse on tribal land.
The new version does restore some confidentiality for immigrant victims of abuse, according to a Democratic official who was not authorized to speak on the issue publicly. But the White House said it still allows abusers to become aware of their victims' allegations.
And it allows a battered Native American woman or a tribe on her behalf to file in U.S. District Court for a protection order against an alleged abuser, whether Indian or not, who committed the abuse on Indian land. But the White House and other Democrats want tribal courts to be able to prosecute the offenders, a proposal Republicans insist is unconstitutional.
Objections to the GOP-written bill also came from a small group of Republicans who urged the House to consider a bill that could gain a measure of bipartisanship.
Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., told the House Rules Committee late Tuesday that the bill should look more like the Senate measure on the immigrant and LGBT provisions.
"I am very concerned that the current bill, even with changes made ... doesn't reflect everything we've learned over the last five years in terms of what works best for prosecutors or victims," Biggert told the panel.
If the House bill passes, a committee of lawmakers from both chambers is expected to work out differences.
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