The House passed Democrats’ new version of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday, rejecting Republicans’ pleas to restore quickly the old law which expired earlier this year.
Democrats’ legislation attracted bipartisan support, passing 263-158, with 33 Republicans voting for it.
The update would renew the 1994 law through 2024, continuing its system of grants while expanding protections against discrimination for transgender individuals, extending tribal courts’ jurisdiction over non-Indians, and creating new categories of people banned from legally purchasing firearms.
“There should be nothing partisan or political about ending the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
The National Rifle Association opposed the bill, fueling GOP opposition.
The new gun control provisions would extend an existing ban on firearms purchases by someone accused of domestic violence against a spouse or live-in partner to also include dating couples and those convicted of a stalking misdemeanor charge.
The NRA argues those new rules are too vague and lack due process for gun owners or buyers.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, Arizona Republican and a survivor of domestic abuse herself, took particular issue with a provision that would take away an accused abuser’s gun rights if a judge grants a protective order for a victim.
“Under this bill the perpetrator’s gun rights would be taken away even though they weren’t in court,” she said.
NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker criticized Democratic leaders for using a women’s protection bill “to advance their gun control agenda.”
But Democrats said the changes they were suggesting were common sense.
“Do not let the NRA bully you,” urged Rep. Debbie Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who authored the gun control provisions. “We’re not taking away due process. All it does is say if someone has been convicted — convicted — as an intimate partner that they would not have access to a gun.”
GOP lawmakers objected to other provisions they said strayed too far from the core purpose of VAWA.
The expansion of protections for transgender individuals, for example, prioritizes that group over privacy concerns of cisgender women in domestic abuse shelters and prisons, said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican.
“This bill, in the name of equality, says women are not going to be able to have a safe place from biological men,” he said.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon called Republican use of terms like “biological men” transphobic.
“It shows how disingenuous their concern for the safety of women is,” she said.
The Violence Against Women Act was last renewed in 2013, but Mrs. Pelosi allowed it to expire earlier this year because, Republicans said, she wanted to create pressure to force Congress into accepting Democrats’ new proposed changes.
“They have sought to turn this bill into a political weapon rather than a resource for law enforcement,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said on the House floor. “Instead of negotiating in good faith, they have decided a highly partisan bill with zero chance of moving forward in the Senate was the best way to approach reauthorizing crucial VAWA programs.”
Since the bill was introduced last month, Republicans have accused Democrats of stymying attempts at negotiation.
Rep. Karen Bass, the California Democrat who sponsored the legislation, denied those allegations, saying her tried to include some GOP ideas.
Republicans attempted to push a short-term renewal of the old VAWA bill, saying it would restore the law immediately but Democrats refused that gesture.
“Our calculation was that we’re in charge now, we can pass a bill that we think is a comprehensive bill to protect all women,” Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters earlier this week. “I’m hopeful that the Senate will take it up or ask to go to conference on it. But we need to reauthorize it.”
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