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Okla. House Delegation Splits On Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Vote

Chris Polansky
Aug. 16, 2020, file photo of Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) in Tulsa.

This story was updated at 6:18 a.m. on Friday, March 19th, to include a statement from Rep. Markwayne Mullin received after initial publication.

The often-united, all-G.O.P. Oklahoma delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives diverged on Wednesday, with three of five representatives breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting to renew the Violence Against Women Act. 

Reps. Stephanie Bice, Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole were among just 29 House Republicans to vote for the reauthorization of the 1994 law.

NPR reported on Wednesday that the legislation, which provides support services for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and which lapsed in 2018, faced scrutiny this go-around from groups like the National Rifle Association for new language meant to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers and stalkers.

"For those concerned with the firearm provision in this legislation, know that I have always supported Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens and that will never change," Bice said in a statement explaining her yes vote. "The VAWA reauthorization states that individuals convicted of stalking or violence against a dating partner can be prohibited from obtaining firearms."

Bice said she was "frustrated" with certain provisions in the legislation passed Wednesday, "[b]ut I can’t in good conscience vote to deny domestic assault victims, or the organizations who serve them – including the YWCA of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Assault, and so many others – the funding they need in favor of partisan politics.”

Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, said he was compelled to vote yes despite his misgivings at least in part due to sections of the law which deal with Native issues.

“As a strong and longtime supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, I recognize the importance of strengthening and renewing tools to address domestic violence by reauthorizing the law," he said in a statement. "While there are many misguided provisions that do not belong in the reauthorization legislation passed by the House, I am very supportive of the areas concerning Native American tribes and their ability to combat and end violence against women and children in their own communities."

Mullin, a Cherokee citizen, also cited Native issues in a statement explaining his yes vote.

"While there are troubling and partisan provisions in this bill, VAWA is critical to Native American communities across the country. It’s shameful the House Democrats are playing politics with indigenous women’s lives, but VAWA must be reauthorized," Mullin said.

In a statement explaining his vote against reauthorization, Hern suggested Democrats' additions to the law were a bridge too far.

"Unfortunately, the bill that we voted on yesterday included numerous partisan poison pills that have nothing to do with the goal of protecting women from domestic violence. This practice of politicizing otherwise non-partisan issues with unrelated provisions has become the norm under [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s leadership; it is a fierce impediment to the legislative process and cheapens everything we do in Congress. For that reason, I could not support the bill before us in the House," Hern said in a statement.

Lucas said in a statement that he would have voted for an amendment by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) that dropped some of the new language.

"Sadly, Congresswoman Stefanik’s amendment failed and the legislation passed by the House yesterday included unnecessarily partisan language, undermining Congress’ opportunity to improve the original statute," Lucas said. "I truly hope, for the safety and well-being of millions of women across the country, the House revisits this piece of legislation following any action in the Senate to adopt bipartisan, meaningful reform for this crucial law.”

NPR reports Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that Senate Democrats are ready to vote and, ostensibly, pass the House-approved bill.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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