By Wade Henderson
The campaign-minded Republicans who condemned Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s statements about “legitimate rape” could deepen their impact by backing the routine reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The well-documented comment from Akin sparked a firestorm of criticism from across the political spectrum. But most noteworthy was the outrage from Republican leaders, including Karl Rove, NRSC head Senator John Cornyn, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, American Crossroads head Steven Law, right wing pundits like Sean Hannity and Hugh Hewitt, and the editorial boards of the National Review and the Wall Street Journal.
Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, made the political case succinctly when she commented that “what he said is completely indefensible and changes the narrative of what’s going on here…If he looks at the bigger picture, he will do what’s best and step aside.”
Just as Akin attempted to parse “rape” from “legitimate rape,” House Republicans are championing a VAWA bill that deems sexual violence against some women to be less legitimate than when it’s committed against other women. Their bill leaves out specific policies to address domestic violence and rape involving college students, immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBT people. The Senate bill that included these provisions passed with substantial bipartisan support and a large majority.
In their consideration of the bill, House Republicans had a knee-jerk opposition to protections for these groups, which are seen by some as reliable Democratic constituencies, and have thus far refused to bring up the bipartisan Senate bill to a vote. Like Akin, they created laughably meaningless distinctions to defend what is ultimately indefensible. But unlike Akin, there was no similar firestorm.
In today’s polarized political climate, the widely held belief in Congress that rape is unacceptable and that VAWA is a noncontroversial bill that should be routinely reauthorized has turned out to be another pointless, partisan battle.
Should they so choose, the Republican leaders who have called for Akin to resign his candidacy could be on the doorstep of restoring the bipartisan consensus on VAWA that has evaporated in this Congress.
This is a matter of good politics and good policy. All voters would agree that their college-aged children should be protected from stalking, violence, date rape, and sexual assault; that someone’s immigration status shouldn’t hold them captive to abuse in the home; that women on tribal reservations shouldn’t suffer an epidemic of rape; and that domestic violence is still wrong regardless of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The political moves by Republican strategists regarding Akin’s candidacy happen to be in the best interests of women, but they shouldn’t stop there. With little time left before the election, the same figures should continue to lead and encourage House Republicans to pass the bipartisan and inclusive Senate Violence Against Women Act.
Not only will they protect women – but they might actually get a few more votes.
Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights and human rights organizations.