WASHINGTON — House Republicans raised the white flag Thursday on extending domestic violence protections to gays, lesbians and transsexuals after months of resisting an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.
GOP leaders, who had tried to limit the bill before last November’s election, gave the go-ahead for the House to accept a more ambitious Senate version written mainly by Democrats.
Democrats, with a minority of Republicans, were key to the 286-138 House vote that sent to President Barack Obama a renewal of the 1994 law that has set the standard for how to protect women, and some men, from domestic abuse and prosecute abusers.
South Carolina’s five Republican congressmen voted against the measure while Democrat James Clyburn voted in favor.
It was the third time this year that House Speaker John Boehner has allowed Democrats and moderates in his party to prevail over the GOP’s conservative wing. As with a Jan. 1 vote to avoid the fiscal cliff and legislation to extend Superstorm Sandy aid, a majority of House Republicans voted against the final anti- violence bill.
Obama, in a statement, said that “renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear” and said he would sign the bill “as soon as it hits my desk.”
The law lapsed in 2011 as it was caught up in the partisan battles that now divide Congress. Last year, the House refused to go along with a Senate-passed bill that would have made clear that lesbians, gays, immigrants and Native American women should have equal access to Violence Against Women Act programs.
It appeared the scenario would be repeated this year when the House introduced a bill that didn’t mention the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and watered down a Senate provision allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians who attack their Indian partners on tribal lands.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., defended the plan: “Our goal in strengthening the Violence Against Women Act is simple. We want to help all women who are faced with violent, abusive and dangerous situations. ... We want them to know that those who commit these horrendous crimes will be punished.”
But the House proposal encountered strong opposition from women’s groups, the White House, Democrats and some Republicans, and on Tuesday, the GOP leadership agreed to give the House a vote on the Senate bill. It passed immediately after the House rejected Cantor’s bill.