Vice President Joe Biden suggested on Wednesday that the GOP’s opposition to the Democratic version of a domestic violence bill will give the green light to male violence against women.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2005. Approval of an updated law is stalled because Republican and Democratic senators disagree over what provisions should be added to the law.
“Just ask yourself, what message does it send to our daughters, to every women imprisoned in their own homes … if the law is not reauthorized,” Biden declared today at a White House meeting of feminists and groups that are funded by the law.
Social opposition to male abuse of women “became part of our social fabric, our social culture,” because of the 1994 law, Biden said. “Just imagine the impact on the moral disapprobation of society if this Congress refuses to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.”
“Even those [GOP] guys and women opposing this [expanded Democratic version], I think, in their hearts, they know this is the right thing,” Biden said.
Republican opposition to the expanded Democratic bill can be overcome, Biden announced, partly by citing the senators’ own daughters and wives. “We have to appeal to the better angels of our friends up on the Hill,” he said.
“Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act isn’t partisan,” said a statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is pushing the GOP’s reform bill. (RELATED: More on Joe Biden)
“Republicans are firmly committed to reauthorizing VAWA … [but] the bill that cleared the Judiciary Committee failed to address some fundamental problems, including significant waste, ineligible expenditures, immigration fraud and possible unconstitutional provisions,” Grassley said.
“Senator [Kay Bailey] Hutchison and I are working on an alternative to the VAWA bill that will both strengthen important provisions and fix weaknesses in the committee-passed bill,” Grassley explained. “It maintains adequate funding authorization, without adding to the budget deficit … and it focuses resources on helping victims.”
GOP advocates say that Democrats are pushing controversial measures in their draft bill — and are opposing the GOP’s modest reforms of the existing version — partly because they want to paint the GOP as hostile to women.
For example, Democrats added a section that would award 5,000 residency visas per year to illegal aliens who say they are victims of domestic violence. Democrats also added controversial sections that would allow Indian tribal courts to try non-Indians, would pressure universities to set up tribunals for sex-related disputes on campus, and would require one-size-fits-all police intervention in diverse domestic arguments.
Democratic senators have also announced their opposition to the GOP reform bill that would tighten oversight of grants to community groups and would establish the first set of basic legal rights for people accused of domestic violence.
Under current law, people — who are mostly men — who are accused of domestic violence have few legal safeguards or rights, even when they face imprisonment, fines, loss of property and loss of access to their children.
For example, accusers can get federally-funded lawyers, but defendants don’t get federal aid.
Defendants also lack many standard legal rights available to criminals and defendants in civil suits. For example, immigrants spouses who accuse their spouses of domestic violence can get permanent visas, while their spouses can’t confront them in court.
“There’s no equal protection,” said Teri Stoddard, program director at Stop Abusive and Violent Environments. “I know many, many people who have been falsely accused — both men and women — [and] because they don’t have that equal protection, lose everything — their home, car, job and mental health,” she said.
Biden, a champion of sexual equality, did not mention domestic violence against men or legal safeguards for defendants.
For example, the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party quit his post after being arrested for hitting his boyfriend in February, according to a March 5 article in St. Louis Tribune. The victim was admitted to the emergency department of a local hospital.
Through his speech, Biden ignored the GOP’s draft bill, authored by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, and repeatedly painted Republican senators as opposed to protections against domestic violence. “The idea that we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,” Biden said.
Moreover, Biden endorsed elements of the Democratic version, called on Congress to broaden the law’s reach further and urged attendees at the White House meeting to push for passage of the Democratic bill.
Colleges have “the highest rate of dating abuse in the country … Nobody should question whether [an expansion to colleges] is needed,” Biden said.
Biden also said the law should be expanded to cover non-violent family disagreements over money and other issues. The use of a “a physical, financial or psychological power over you … that is the ugliest sin that man can commit,” he declared.
Biden’s dismissive attitude of the GOP’s approach was shared by Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I cannot understand why this is a debate in Congress,” said Holder, who has frequently urged Congress to grant additional legal protections for defendants in cases that do not involve domestic violence.
Neither Biden nor Holder accused the GOP of waging a “war on women,” even as they dismissed the GOP’s domestic-violence bill.
That phrase has recently been renounced by Democratic operatives following several weeks in which Democratic officials, legislators and allies have used it to spur support for Obama in the 2012 campaign.
However, Biden and Holder repeated their support for the many feminist and community groups at the meeting that will support Obama’s re-election campaign.
“It is inconceivable to me, inconceivable to me that we are in a debate about something that has proved so effective,” Holder said, adding that “the Department of Justice will do all we can to support you. We are very proud to stand by your side.”
However, Republicans and reformists say the Democrats are using the dispute to paint the GOP as hostile to women.
“It really irritates me [to see them suggest] that if I’m trying to reform the VAWA, then I’m part of the ‘war on women.’” Stoddard said.
“I grew up a liberal and I’ve given the Democrats many of my votes over the years, but because I’ve been involved in this [issue], I’m now a centrist,” she said.