WASHINGTON ― The House passed legislation Thursday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, despite the vast majority of Republicans opposing it amid pressure from the National Rifle Association.
The bill, which reauthorizes the landmark 1994 domestic violence law for another five years, easily passed. (The vote tally is here). But 157 Republicans voted against it, along with one Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.). For many of them, it was because the NRA was pushing them to oppose it over its gun safety provisions and warning that a vote in favor of the bill would be reflected in their NRA rating.
Under current federal law, only people convicted of domestic violence offenses against spouses or family members can lose their gun rights. The VAWA would add people convicted of abusing their dating partners, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” It would also prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses from owning or buying firearms, as well as abusers subject to temporary protective orders.
Most of the GOP caucus opposed the bill because of the gun measures, said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), one of 33 Republicans who voted for it.
“That seems to be the main issue,” said King, who has an F rating with the NRA. “I mean, there’s others as far as transgender [protections in the bill], but the main issue is the guns.”
The NRA has incredible sway over Republicans in Congress because of all the money it gives them ― and threatens to spend against them if they break from the group’s agenda. In the 2018 election cycle, it gave $690,950 to GOP congressional candidates versus $19,454 to Democratic congressional candidates. The gun rights organization spent nearly half a billion dollars in the 2016 election cycle, including $30 million on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign alone.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said Thursday that he had concerns about the gun provisions in the VAWA bill but said they were “secondary” to other things he didn’t like.
“You have so many jurisdictions of committees that this bill is intertwined [with], it’s very complicated,” said Thompson, who has an A rating with the NRA. “This hasn’t even been vetted in seven or eight other committees that may have some pieces of it.”
Peterson, the lone Democrat who opposed the bill and who has an A rating with the NRA, said the gun provisions were “partisan,” and that’s why he voted no.
″I was disappointed that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization was made partisan with the inclusion of language that would strip individuals’ right to due process with respect to their 2nd Amendment rights,” he said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has an A+ rating with the NRA, had been urging Republicans to get behind an alternative VAWA bill, sponsored by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Her proposal, which failed 185 to 237, would have extended current law for a year ― leaving out the gun safety measures and other expanded protections for Native American women, transgender people and victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
“Can we stop playing political games at the expense of vulnerable women?” she said in remarks on the House floor, to cheers from Republicans and groans from Democrats. “The Democratic bill on the floor today will collect dust in the Senate.”
But Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) criticized Republicans for trying to strip out the most “basic” protections for victims of domestic violence, including the gun safety provisions. She touched on her own experiences of growing up with an abusive, gun-owning father.
“I remember what it was like when you called the police and they didn’t come because your father was an important man in town,” said Dingell.
She called out the NRA for trying to defeat the VAWA over its gun safety provisions, which she said shouldn’t even be hard to support since they respond to pretty stark statistics: One in seven women has been stalked by an intimate partner to the point where they felt afraid or believed they would be harmed. And the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
“Do not let the NRA bully you!” shouted Dingell, who has an abysmal rating with the group. “This is not a poison pill.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are working on their own as-yet-introduced VAWA legislation. It’s not likely the gun provisions in the House bill will advance in the Senate.
“There are a number of improvements in the House bill that I think should be in our version, including preserving improvements already made in the 2013 reauthorization,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I hope the Senate will move quickly.”
Arthur Delaney and Melissa Jeltsen contributed reporting.