Bloomberg News

Senate Democrats Aim to Extend Violence Against Women Act

March 16, 2012

U.S. Senate Democrats are counting on a fight over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to give their party’s female Senate candidates an edge in the November election.

The measure is part of a strategy to brand Republicans as anti-women and help Democrats retain control of the Senate in November. To bolster those efforts, Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, wants to bring the Violence Against Women Act to the floor before the end of the month, said his spokesman, Adam Jentleson.

“What’s helping Democratic women move forward in their races is the fact that there has been a pretty strong attack on women’s rights,” Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who first won her Senate seat in 1992 as part of an influx of women, said yesterday in an interview. “It will help more Democrats get elected, and not just women.”

Boxer cited Senate Republicans’ unsuccessful effort this month to let employers and insurers deny coverage for birth control and other health services that violate their religious beliefs, as well as a House Republican bid last year to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Democrats control the Senate by a 53-47 margin, including two independents who caucus with the party. Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats in November, compared with 10 for Republicans.

Politics ‘All Over It’

Republicans say Democrats’ attempt to turn female voters against them won’t work and is an effort to distract from the lack of a Democratic strategy for improving the economy.

“It has politics written all over it,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership, said in a March 14 interview. “Most women, particularly independent women, want to see us talking about economic issues.”

The measure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act would provide services, including transitional housing and legal assistance, to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The 1994 law, which has been reauthorized twice before, expired Sept. 30.

The eight Republicans -- all men -- on the Judiciary Committee opposed the measure in a 10-8 panel vote last month. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement it was the first time a reauthorization of the law was approved by the panel with votes only from one party. Republicans said they were blocked from offering amendments that might have won their support for the measure.

Gains Among Women

Democrats are seeking to capitalize on gains they say they made with women and independent voters when they thwarted Senate Republicans’ birth control proposal on March 1.

“When Republicans let the hard right run the show, they lose out,” Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told reporters March 14. He said Missouri Republican Roy Blunt’s birth control proposal had “no appeal in the middle, particularly with independent women,” and was “self- defeating.”

The Violence Against Women Act is “important to women throughout America,” Schumer told reporters yesterday. He urged Republicans who might oppose the measure to try to amend it on the floor.

Female senators yesterday called attention to dangers to women caused by domestic violence and urged for reauthorization of the law. Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who is seeking re- election this year, described it as “a landmark bill” that “started a sea change in attitudes about violence against women.”

‘Constant Battering Ram’

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat seeking another term this year, said opposition to the domestic violence bill was the latest in a “long litany of attempts to weaken services to women” that she’d seen from Republicans in her Senate career. Reproductive rights in particular have been a “constant battering ram” for Republicans, Feinstein said.

“It is part of the effort to woo women voters and to get them in their camp,” Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said yesterday in a telephone interview. Women make up a majority of the electorate and may be a “pivotal” voting bloc in November, she said.

“If they can fire up Democratic women voters, that helps them,” Duffy said.

The reauthorization measure has 58 co-sponsors, including Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Brown is running for re-election again Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Murkowski, Snowe, Collins

Three female Republican Senators -- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine -- also signed on to the measure. Murkowski was among the women speaking in favor of the legislation on the Senate floor.

Two other Republican women - Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire (NHTB) and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas - said in interviews yesterday they can support the bill if it is revised on the Senate floor.

Democrats tried to cast the birth control flap as Republican attack on women’s health, while Republicans said it was a religious freedom issue.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 8-11 showed that Americans overwhelmingly regard the debate over President Barack Obama’s policy on employer-provided contraceptive coverage as a matter of women’s health, not religious freedom, rejecting Republicans’ rationale for opposing the rule. More than six in 10 respondents -- including almost 70 percent of women -- said the issue involves health care and access to birth control.

‘War on Women’

After the Senate rejected the Republican birth control proposal, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a Web video highlighting the Republicans’ “war on women” and urging viewers to “send a Democratic woman to the Senate.” The campaign committee helped organize a fundraising trip for the six female Democratic senators and five female candidates last weekend in California and Washington.

Snowe was the only Republican to vote against Blunt’s birth control amendment. Murkowski was quoted by the Anchorage Daily News as saying she “made a mistake” in supporting it.

Democratic leaders’ emphasis on women shows they are “worried about Senate Democrats and keeping their majority,” said Duffy, who focuses on U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat seeking re- election this year, said Republican opposition to measures such as the Violence Against Women Act “sends another very bad signal to women in this country about where Republicans are in terms of understanding the lives of women.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net


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