WASHINGTON - House Republicans set up a showdown Wednesday with the Senate and President Obama over legislation to protect women from domestic violence, a fight that's become as much about female voters this election year as cracking down on abuse.
The House voted 222-205 to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act for five years, as the Senate already had done. But big differences remain: Obama, other Democrats and a long list of advocacy groups say the House bill doesn't go far enough to protect abused immigrants, Native Americans or gays. Republicans say their bill does more to protect taxpayers from fraud and maintains the constitutionality of law enforcement procedures on Indian land.
It's unclear whether the differences will be reconciled before the November elections, or whether the bills will be used as campaign weapons.
But a pair of domestic violence survivors who fell on opposite sides of the debate reminded their House colleagues that for them and other abused women it's about far more than politics.
"The man I married had a penchant for drinking and was very violent when he drank," the bill's sponsor, freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R., Fla.), said during floor debate.
Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore recalled what it was like to try to press charges against her rapist in the days before the law's passage.
"I took him to court [but] indeed, I was on trial," Moore said. "I had to prove, as a victim, that I was not being fraudulent in my accusations. They brought up how I was an unwed mother with a baby. Maybe I seduced him. They talked about how I was dressed."
But in Washington this election year, every issue is pressed for political advantage, even the government's main domestic violence-fighting law twice reauthorized with bipartisan support.
In a veto message issued late Tuesday before the House voted, the White House said the GOP-written bill takes "direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault" and jeopardizes victims by placing them "directly in harm's way."
The 1994 antiviolence law provides millions of dollars to programs such as legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing aid and youth prevention programs. Its 2005 reauthorization expired last year.
Democrats in the Senate would expand the law 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 previously. Senate Republicans also objected to Democratic provisions 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.