Joni Ernst plays politics with women’s lives

After months of waiting, Senator Ernst has once again failed to bring before the Senate a bill that would reinstate the protections for women provided by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 as part of a large crime bill. The law created a system to provide support and programs for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as a framework of legal enforcement against perpetrators.

In the ensuing 25 years, VAWA has been strengthened and expanded, as policy-makers recognized gaps in the law and changing societal needs. Sadly, this legislation fell victim to the budget battles of late 2018 and lapsed without reauthorization by Congress in December.

The U.S. House has done its part to rectify this by passing a reauthorization of the act in April, with some Republican support. The updated bill would strengthen a number of existing programs and seeks to close the “boyfriend loophole” to include banning all intimate partners who have been convicted of domestic abuse or stalking from purchasing a firearm. Earlier versions of VAWA restricted firearm purchases only to individuals who were “married to, lived with, or have a child with the victim.”

On November 7, at 3:20 PM, Senator Joni Ernst released the following video via Twitter:

In the video from her speech on the Senate floor, Ernst claims that partisan politcs are to blame for her failure to produce a bill and bring forward legislation to vote to reathorize the Violence Against Women Act. She goes so far as to accuse California’s Democratic senator Diane Feinstein of putting politics ahead of people. Instead of producing a bill of her own, Ernst called the House-passed bill a non-starter, full of political talking points. The House passed the VAWA reauthorization on a significantly bipartisan basis, with a vote of 263–158. 33 Republicans voted in support of the reauthorization.

In April of 2019, after the House bill passed, Senator Feinstein released the following statement:

“I’m pleased the House passed its VAWA reauthorization bill with meaningful
improvements to the law. I’m also thrilled the bill passed with 33 Republican votes – this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“I’m looking forward to working with Republican Senator Ernst on this issue and am hopeful the Senate will be able to follow soon. As Senator Ernst said at a Judiciary Committee hearing last month, our goal is to ‘reauthorize and modernize’ the law. There are a number of improvements in the House bill that I think should be in our version, including preserving improvements already made in the 2013 reauthorization.

“I hope the Senate will move quickly. This is an important law and one the Senate
should take very seriously and act upon expeditiously.”

In the Senate speech video, Ernst states, “I’m all too aware of how this town works. Election year politics are in full swing. And the grim reality is Democrats cannot afford to be seen as giving Republicans a win.” Sadly, Ernst is right. However, in this case it is not the Democrats who are playing politics, it is Senator Joni Ernst. In a press release from May of 2019, Feinstein iterated her supported the House bill. Feinstein identifies specific gaps from the 2013 VAWA bill that the House bill addresses: crimes against children, the elderly, and law enforcement and addressing domestic violence on tribal lands. Had Feinstein not wanted to work with Ernst on getting a bill passed in the Senate, the House bill could have easily been brought to a vote soon after it passed. However, the GOP controlled Senate requires 60 votes to pass and with 53 Republican Senators, the House bill needed a Republican Senator co-writing the bill to get it through. So, it is evident that to get VAWA passed in the Senate Feinstein would need Ernst’s support, not the other way around. Senator Ernst is looking for a win with her base and in her NRA donors.

No doubt, Senator Joni Ernst parted ways with Senator Feinstein over the provisions in the act pertaining to firearms.

Feinstein stated in May of 2019,

There are several other provisions that I believe should be included in a VAWA
Reauthorization. Chief among those is keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

I plan to speak about those provisions at a later date, but I mention them now
because I believe that we must have a comprehensive approach to addressing domestic violence in this country.

Simply put, all of the different parts of VAWA are linked. For instance, ensuring
tribal governments can prosecute domestic violence committed on tribal lands is important, but keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers will help protect victims on tribal lands as well.

The House bill passed despite its opposition from the NRA. The NRA spoke out against the bill because they argued that a new provision in the bill barring partners convicted of abuse and stalking from owning firearms went too far. Ernst accuses Democrats of placing petty politics ahead of survivors and preventing abuse. One could argue, that is exactly what Senator Ernst is doing. She is placing the NRA above the protection of America’s women.

As mentioned above, Senator Feinstein is a seasoned politician and would know that a bill would need Republican support to pass. Ernst has had months to devise a bill reflecting the GOP’s position. Her constituents have been asking for a bill since the House bill was passed in April. A group of constituents met with her staffers in her Des Moines office on August 15th to discuss Ernst’s contribution to the revised VAWA reauthorization and ask for a conference call with the Senator to discuss the new bill she was working on. To date, that call has not been granted nor have Senator Ernst’s staffers from the Cedar Rapids or Des Moines office been able to produce any evidence that she has been working on reauthorizing VAWA.

It is also surprising that in her floor speech, Senator Ernst said that “soon” she would have a proposal of her own to bring forward. When asked in a call to her DC office on October 17, Ernst’s staffer responded that her portion of the VAWA reauthorization was ready and that they were waiting on Feinstein because it was her bill they would be bringing forward. Not surprisingly, in a follow-up call to Senator Feinstein’s office on October 28, it was shared by her staffer that they were waiting for Ernst’s proposals to the bill that Feinstein has already agreed to.

It appears that Ernst was right in her speech. She is all too aware of how DC works, and election politics are in full swing. However, what Ernst fails to mention in her speech is that she is the one playing partisan politics and putting party over people. Sadly, the women of this country are once again a pawn to political rhetoric and continue to wait while Senator Ernst delays reauthorizing life-saving protections in order to appease the NRA.

Photo by Gage Skidmore. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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