House passes revamped Violence Against Women Act

By: - April 4, 2019 12:24 pm
Rep. Debbie Dingell in Washington

Rep. Debbie Dingell introducing the revamped Violence Against Women Act | Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to renew and expand legislation that aids victims of domestic violence, setting the stage for a battle in the Senate.

House lawmakers voted 263-158 to reauthorize the 1994 legislation that funds programs like rape crisis centers, shelters and legal services to victims of domestic abuse. House Democrats were joined by 33 Republicans in approving the measure. The domestic violence law expired in February, and advocates warn that critical programs will be in jeopardy if it’s not renewed.

Rep. Debbie Dingell
Rep. Debbie Dingell advocating for the Violence Against Women Act | Robin Bravender

The law has long had bipartisan support, but it’s become contentious during this Congress as newly empowered House Democrats are seeking to expand the measure. The National Rifle Association is opposing a provision in the bill from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) that makes it easier to keep guns from those convicted of domestic abuse or stalking.

The issue is personal for Dingell. “This is something that I care very, very deeply about, because I lived in that household,” she told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol earlier this week.

Dingell has publicly recounted how she hid in a closet from her father, who suffered from mental illness.

“I know what it’s like to live in a household with someone that has issues that can snap at a minute’s notice, and suddenly the gun is pointed at your mother or pointed at you. And as a child, you’re trying to grab a gun from someone and keep them from killing each other.”

But the NRA has called the new gun enforcement language a “poison pill,” arguing that it’s too broad and threatens the rights of gun owners.

Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote on Thursday, Dingell implored her colleagues, “Do not let the NRA bully you. This is not a poison pill.”

The House bill has the backing of U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who was an original co-sponsor.

“This is not a partisan issue which is why I put a special emphasis on working to build bipartisan support for this critical legislation,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

Every Democratic member of Michigan’s delegation voted in favor, while all but one of the state’s Republican representatives were in opposition. The lone Republican supporter was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

“VAWA plays a critical role in combating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other terrible crimes,” Upton said in a press release. “I was proud to vote today to maintain and strengthen such important legislation.”

Upton faced a stronger than usual challenge in 2018 from Democratic opponent Matt Longjohn, a public health advocate who came within 5 points of defeating the longtime incumbent Upton.

Still, most House Republicans joined the rest of Michigan’s GOP legislators in voting against the measure on Thursday, signaling an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate. Republican leadership sought a “clean extension” of the law earlier this year, but Democrats rejected that in hopes of expanding the bill.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential contender, is leading an effort in the Senate to bar people who have been convicted of stalking or abusing dating partners from owning guns.

Klobuchar said at a press conference Wednesday that she’ll be lobbying GOP senators who have quietly expressed support for similar efforts in past years.

“They didn’t want to have their name on the bill, but they would have voted for it,” she said. “That’s a group I’m focusing on.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.