Sen. Murray Balks at Compromise with House on Violence Against Women Act

Russell Berman
June 26, 2012

A senior Senate Democrat on Tuesday said she would not support a compromise on the Violence Against Women Act that scraps provisions passed by the Senate on a bipartisan vote.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the fourth-ranking Senate Democrat, held a press conference with advocates to make clear she would reject any agreement with the House that did not include specific measures for Native American, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and immigrant victims of domestic violence.

“There are those who have suggested to us that we take out some of the provisions in the Senate bill and we could have a deal tomorrow,” Murray said. “That is not acceptable to me or to the many people who supported the bill in the Senate.”

Progress on a bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act has stalled more than a month after both the House and Senate passed competing versions.

The Senate bill, which passed two months ago by a 68-31 vote, included a long-sought provision allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indian offenders in domestic violence cases under certain circumstances. Advocates say the measure is needed because the lack of nearby federal courts on tribal lands often allows offenders to get “a free pass” in areas where domestic violence is rampant.

The House followed the Senate weeks later, but the measure it passed largely along party lines did not include the tribal lands provision.

House Republicans say the Senate must fix a provision that renders its bill unconstitutional because it raises revenue. Legislation that raises revenue must originate in the lower chamber.

Senators say the House can work around the issue and are pressuring GOP leaders to take up its legislation, which has the support of the advocate community.

Asked if talks are taking place with the House, Murray suggested there was little room for compromise.

“Certainly if the House leadership and the members of the House who have worked hard on this say ‘we are willing to include the provisions of the Senate,’ we can find a path forward,” Murray said.

She noted that the Violence Against Women Act is currently funded, and hinted that a failure to reauthorize the law would be better than passing the House version.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House had passed a bipartisan reauthorization of the law and stood ready to work with the Senate “once the Senate eliminates the unconstitutional provision” in its bill. Six House Democrats signed on to that version, while 23 Republicans voted against it.

While Democrats had earlier prioritized the bill as a way to castigate Republicans on women’s issues, the Violence Against Women Act has faded from the spotlight and taken a backseat to other measures that face hard deadlines this summer.

As Murray and other lawmakers and advocates spoke on Tuesday, the singer Michael Bolton stood off to the side, but he did not speak at the press conference. Afterward, he told reporters he had working for years to raise awareness for at-risk women and children who have left their homes because of domestic violence.

He was due to speak at a separate rally later Tuesday. He said he had three daughters and two granddaughters who made the issue personal for him.

“I’m surrounded by women. They basically own me,” he joked. “But the thought of violence being directed toward them, violence in their home, is unacceptable.”

Bolton noted that he had met with the original authors of the Violence Against Women Act, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), around the time it passed in 1994. When advocates told Bolton that Hatch voted against the reauthorization in April and that he was facing a Tuesday primary election, Bolton told them with a smile he’d be calling Hatch after the results were in.