Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch not only helped create the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, he also led two successful efforts since then to reauthorize the federal government’s signature bill to combat domestic abuse.
Not this time.
Hatch, R-Utah, voted against the latest renewal Thursday claiming that Democrats have thrown in controversial items “designed to shatter” its bipartisan support.
“It is inappropriate to use the Violence Against Women Act and the good will that it has attracted as cover for those new and divisive projects,” said Hatch, referring to provisions involving immigration, same-sex partners and Native Americans.
Fifteen Republicans did join with Democrats to pass the bill, 68-31 but only after Senate GOP leaders dropped stalling tactics in a move meant to avoid accusations that Republicans are waging a “war on women,” a recurring topic on the presidential trail in recent weeks.
The battle will now shift to the House, where majority Republicans are working on a version that they find more appealing, while keeping many of the programs that fund law enforcement programs and abuse counseling.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was among the 31 Senate Republicans who opposed the reauthorization, but his opposition goes far beyond Hatch’s complaints. He doesn’t think the federal government should play any role in treatment or setting most criminal penalties.
He says the law “oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power. It interferes with the flexibility states and localities should have in tailoring programs to meet the particular needs in individual communities.”
Lee, who joined the Senate in 2011, also argues the reauthorization bill does nothing to reduce the overlap in federal programs meant to tackle this issue.
But Hatch and most Republicans limited their complaints to a few hot-button provisions.
One of these would increase the number of visas available for undocumented immigrants who report abuse. Another is language barring same-sex discrimination in any program receiving federal funds under the act. Also drawing opposition are rules that would give federal courts more control over abuse on some tribal reservations.
“I am truly disappointed that the majority has deliberately politicized this reauthorization legislation,” said Hatch, who co-sponsored the original bill in 1994 with Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware.
Hatch in recent months has voted against some major legislation he has championed in the past, claiming that Democratic majorities and the Obama administration have made them untenable. He did not support recent versions of the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some undocumented children, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Hatch is up for re-election this year in what he has promised would be his last term and has faced heavy opposition from conservative groups.