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Next ‘War on Women’ Showdown Looms Over VAWA Reauthorization

Valerie Jarrett won't promise a veto yet, but the House version of the Violence Against Women Act is likely to clash in conference with the Senate version that passed today.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

April 26, 2012 - 5:05 pm
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Acting Associate Attorney General for the Department of Justice Tony West told reporters that 76 percent of those living on reservations now are not American Indian. “Without an act of Congress, tribes cannot prosecute a non-Indian,” even if they live on a reservation married to an Indian, he said.

The Leahy-Crapo bill “provides tribes with authority to hold perpetrators accountable” for crimes of domestic violence, sexual crimes, and violations of protection orders, West said. They would not be able to prosecute for a crime in which neither party had any ties to the tribe.

“We certainly think the Leahy-Crapo bill is consistent with our overall federal law enforcement scheme,” he said.

The administration cited statistics showing that rates of domestic violence against Native American women are now among the highest in the United States.

“The bill builds on the Tribal Law and Order Act – which President Obama signed on July 29, 2010 – to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems and will provide additional tools to tribal and Federal prosecutors to address domestic violence in Indian country,” the Office of Management and Budget said this week.

Republican complaints against the VAWA, though, ranged from an overstepping of federal power to the requirements placed on funding to states.

“Everyone agrees that violence against women is reprehensible,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said. “The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization has the honorable goal of assisting victims of domestic violence, but it oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power, it interferes with the flexibility states and localities should have in tailoring programs to meet particular needs of individual communities, and it fails to address problems of duplication and inefficiency.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted “no” on the Hutchison-Grassley language because of “strong concerns” about a provision that would require a minimum level of funds be allocated to sexual assault, which would “divert funding away from current domestic violence programs without evidence that the increased funding will result in enhanced prosecutions or additional cases reported.”

Rubio voted against the Leahy-Crapo bill for the same reason. “Furthermore, it would give the Justice Department greater power in determining how funds are used at the state level, taking decision-making out of the hands of the state-based coalitions on the ground who know best about how to serve their communities,” he said, adding that he wants reauthorization of VAWA as it is currently written and hopes to vote for the bill when it emerges from the House-Senate conference.

The House bill is expected to look similar to the Hutchison-Grassley version, and pass in a Republican-controlled chamber.

“There is only one real Violence Against Women Act authorization,” Leahy said before the vote on that version. “This is not it.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), vice chair of the House Republican Conference, and other GOP leaders announced yesterday that they were putting the finishing touches on their own reauthorization, to be introduced by House Judiciary Committee member and domestic violence survivor Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.).

“The Violence Against Women Act is a critical tool for stopping domestic violence and sexual assault, and supporting the victims of these crimes – and House Republicans believe it must be renewed,” McMorris Rodgers said. “This week, we are introducing a five-year reauthorization of this law and it’s our hope that it can be passed quickly in a bipartisan fashion – as it’s always been done in the past.”

When asked if President Obama would veto a House GOP version if it emerged from conference victorious, Jarrett said she wouldn’t speculate on that.

The original VAWA was authored by then-Sen. Joe Biden, who hailed the upper chamber’s passage of the reauthorization today.

“This law has been overwhelmingly successful since it was first enacted 17 years ago to improve the criminal justice response to this violent crime and to assist those who experience this abuse,” Biden said. “Since then, the law has twice been reauthorized with the broad support of members of both parties. It should still be bigger than politics today.”

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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