U.S. House Republican leaders say they're ready to vote Thursday on a Democratic-preferred version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
"The majority of the country feels strongly this is something we ought to do," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told The Washington Post after the leaders agreed on the unusual move Cole acknowledged indicated GOP divisions on the touchy issue.
"It's better to resolve this and move on, rather than be hung up on the issue," he said.
Republican leaders said they wanted to resolve the issue to avoid reminding the public of last fall's campaign season marred by GOP missteps on the sensitive issue of rape and an election won by Democrats in part because of women's support, the Post said.
But the House vote on the Democratic-preferred bipartisan bill already passed by the Senate was not expected to be a simple clean vote, aides said.
Instead, the vote was expected to be done in a two-step process. First the House would vote on a conservative GOP version championed by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., which was expected to fail. Then the House would vote on the Senate bill, whose passage would ensure a swift White House signing ceremony, aides said.
The GOP version weakens Senate provisions that extend domestic violence programs to those in same-sex relationships. It also does not empower Native American courts, as the Senate version does, to prosecute non-American Indians in domestic violence cases on reservations.
The bill, which Cantor had hoped would pick up bipartisan support, drew opposition from a diverse group of Republicans, the Post said.
Among those against it are Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Cole, the deputy majority whip who is also the only registered American Indian in Congress.
Those in favor include conservative Republicans who say the tribal-courts provision is unconstitutional.
Democrats are unified in their opposition to the GOP bill.
With Democratic unity and Republican division, the GOP alternative appears likely to fail, the Post said.
The House would then vote on the Senate version, which Senate passed Feb. 12 by a 78-22 vote, with 23 Republicans among the yes votes.
The Senate version broadens protections to gays and lesbians and expands tribal courts' authority.
The Senate bill is supported by the White House and domestic violence advocates.
Both measures authorize funding for programs under the act at about $660 million a year for five years, down 17 percent since the bill was last authorized in 2005.
The bill was first signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are also covered.
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