The 1994 law remains crucial to the nation’s efforts to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Previous reauthorizations sailed through Congress.
A thoughtful renewal measure introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, and Senator Michael Crapo, an Idaho Republican, cleared the Senate in April with strong bipartisan support. But it has hit a wall in the Republican-led House. Instead, House Republicans pushed through a regressive version of the measure that omits new protections for gay, bisexual or transgender victims of abuse.
The House bill also left out a needed increase in the number of visas, known as U visas, available for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults. And it would reduce the incentive for frightened victims to come forward by ending the current ability of U visa holders to apply for permanent residency after three years.
Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleagues blame Democrats for the impasse, suggesting the Democrats inserted changes to invite opposition and score political points. But the provisions at issue respond to real humanitarian and law enforcement needs identified by experts working in the field.
By refusing to accept the principle of protecting all victims of domestic violence, House Republican leaders are conveying a belief that rapes of gay people and immigrant women are not “legitimate” rapes, as Representative Todd Akin, the failed Republican candidate for the Senate from Missouri, put it so appallingly. Is that really what Republicans want to stand for?
The act’s reauthorization is must-do business for the lame-duck session. Failure to agree on a bill would mean having to start the legislative process all over again next year. Mr. Boehner should relent and allow the House to vote on the Senate bill. There is a chance it would not muster sufficient Republican votes to pass. But at least it would give Republican representatives who value moderation a chance to dissociate themselves from the narrow-minded prejudices and politics hurting their party.