In a significant victory for President Obama and congressional Democrats, the House on Thursday voted 286-138 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which is designed to help victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The vote ends weeks of stalling by House Republicans, who found themselves isolated after the Senate passed the bill last month with solid bipartisan support. Still, the bill passed only due to a coalition of 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans, marking the third time in recent months that the House has passed major legislation without a majority of support from the majority party.
House Republicans had objected to provisions in the Senate bill that extended VAWA's protections to lesbians, gays, immigrants, and Native Americans. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had introduced separate legislation stripped of those measures, as well as those that would "address sexual assaults on college campuses, reduce the inexcusable backlog of untested rape kits, and toughen penalties for sex traffickers and impose stronger protections for trafficking victims," according to an editorial in The New York Times.
But Boehner didn't have the votes even for his watered-down version, and pressure began to mount on the GOP. As Amanda Marcotte at Slate writes, holding up the passage of the Senate version "just fed into the narrative that the party is increasingly anti-women — a narrative that hurt Republicans in the November election."
Passage of the bill, however, hardly solves the GOP's problems with women. The fact that a majority of House Republicans opposed VAWA will likely cement the impression, fair or not, that the GOP is hostile to womens' interests. "After 20 years of overwhelming bipartisan support, opposition to the Violence Against Women [Act] is now the mainstream Republican position," writes Steven Benen at The Maddow Blog.
Still, by once again breaking the Hastert rule — an unwritten bit of Republican dogma that requires a majority of the majority to support any legislation before it comes to a vote — Boehner was able to extract his caucus from a public relations nightmare. The speaker used the same tactic in allowing taxes to rise for all but the wealthiest Americans during the fiscal cliff, as well as an aid package for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. "The overriding dynamic is that John Boehner is in the difficult position of needing Democratic support to pass stuff that gets the GOP out of political trouble," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post.
Some optimistic analysts see this dynamic as a model for future legislation. "Boehner is allowing the White House to enjoy a coalition in the chamber that could lead to a passage of major laws on the backs of Democratic votes on immigration and, maybe, gun control and energy," says Mark Halperin at TIME.
Nevertheless, it's clear that Boehner's speakership is weakened every time he breaks the Hastert rule, and members of his caucus are reportedly getting restless. As Ashley Parker at The New York Times reports:
The trend has worried and angered conservative members of the conference. Speaking at a public conversation with fellow conservative members on Wednesday, Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho, said that while he did not necessarily oppose the content of the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act, he was frustrated with the possibility that Mr. Boehner would yet again bring legislation to the floor that required Democratic votes to pass.
"It's a huge concern," he said. [New York Times]