Violence Against Women Act Shows House Republicans Can't Go It Alone
To get any major legislation passed, Republican leaders will need Democrats' help.
WASHINGTON — When the House votes Thursday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, ending a drawn-out fight over whether some groups should be afforded protections under the bill, the measure will likely pass with a minority of Republicans supporting it.
In a House led by a Republican conference at odds with itself, which includes a sizable ideologically motivated bloc inclined to oppose almost any major legislation, this dynamic might be the new normal.
On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said House Republicans "always saw this on the horizon" and had accepted that the Senate bill would ultimately come to a vote — even though the majority of House Republicans oppose protections for LGBT, Native American, and immigrant women included in the Senate version.
"I want to vote on more things, not less," Chaffetz said. "Sometimes it'll get pushed over by Democrats, sometimes it'll get pushed over by Republicans, sometimes it'll fail."
Indeed, that vision of the House was once advocated by Boehner himself when he took over as speaker.
"As the chamber closest to the people, the House works best when it is allowed to work its will," Boehner said when he accepted the gavel at the start of the 112th Congress. "I ask all members of this body to join me in recognizing this common truth."
But, since that time, House Republicans have rarely brought to a vote bills that would not pass with support from the majority of the majority party — in many cases paralyzing the House from making any legislative progress. Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel noted, "The current speaker of the House has never mentioned such a rule."
When Republican leaders flouted that threshold for a vote Wednesday, some rank-and-file members responded with rancor, airing their grievances during an hours-long House Republican conference meeting.
"They're doing what they feel they've got to do to make sure we get this issue resolved," Rep. Tom Price said, unenthused, of Republican leaders' decision as he exited the meeting.
House leaders reached the decision to pitch the Senate bill late Tuesday, only once it became clear a House version of the measure could not pass. At a meeting earlier in the evening among members of the Whip team, which counts votes, the contingency of the Senate bill coming to the floor was not even raised.
"You would have never thought that had the slightest possibility of happening based on the discussions," one House Republican aide familiar with the meeting said. The member of Congress for whom the aide works only learned that the House would vote on the Senate version of VAWA later — from Politico.
"I think members are more upset over the process than they are over the Senate bill itself," the aide added.
Wednesday, some Republicans still hadn't quite accepted the outcome: Rep. Ann Wagner, a freshman, lobbied her colleagues on the House floor to support the House's version of VAWA, which would limit protections for Native Americans and would not include LGBT- and immigrant-specific provisions.
"That's why I'm late walking out of here today," said Rep. Ann Wagner as she exited the House chamber well after the vote had ended.
The final vote on the act is expected to take place Thursday.