NEW: Joe Biden says law "should ... be bigger than politics," urging its House passage
The Senate votes to renew the act, which is designed to combat domestic abuse
The bill expands protections for same-sex couples, immigrants, tribal communities
Republicans complain Democrats loaded up renewal with hot-button issues
The U.S. Senate voted to renew a law designed to combat domestic abuse Thursday after Republicans stepped back from what was becoming a politically risky fight over some of the expansions they oppose .
Instead, Senate Republicans decided to leave it to their House counterparts to press for the changes to the Violence Against Women Act when House and Senate negotiators eventually meet to merge their competing bills.
The final vote was 68 to 31, with 15 Republicans voting in favor of the reauthorization, which is required every five years.
The bill would expand the law’s funding and protections for same-sex couples, immigrants and tribal communities.
Democrats, seeking to appeal to women voters in November, argued that resistance to the expansions was evidence of what they call the Republicans’ “war on women.” Republicans denied that they oppose the law, accusing Democrats of purposely loading up the bill with hot-button political issues just to dare Republicans to oppose it in an election year.
“I regret there are competing versions,” said Sen. John Kyl, R-Arizona, “especially since I believe all of us support (the) current law.”
Specifically, Republicans want to lower the number of visas permitted in the bill to illegal immigrants who report domestic violence. They also want to drop references to gays and lesbians in the bill and get rid of a provision dealing with domestic abuse prosecutions of non-Native Americans on tribal lands, which Kyl called “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Democrats argued that every time the act has been renewed, since it was enacted in 1994, new groups have been included to ensure no one is left out of a law that was designed to protect everyone from domestic violence.
“It really is a shame it’s taken us so long to get to this point,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, shortly before the vote.
“The Violence Against Women Act has helped provide lifesavings assistance to hundreds of thousands of women and families. And it was certainly a no-brainer to make sure all women had access to that assistance.”
Vice President Joe Biden released a statement Thursday cheering the Senate’s action and urging “the House to move quickly and pass the bill.”
“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. “It should still be bigger than politics today.”