Womens' issues playing an early role in 2014 race as Democrats scrutinize McConnell's votes

07/16/2013 05:39 PM

In Act 1 of the 2014 U.S. Senate race, Democrats are seeking to put U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on his heels on women’s issues, which also simultaneously highlights the demographic differences between McConnell and the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

Specifically, the Violence Against Women Act has provided political fodder for national Democrats and candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who several times has brought up McConnell’s vote against reauthorizing the legislation.

In February, McConnell and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul voted against the Violence Against Women Act —VAWA for short. It’s aimed at curbing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Paul cited financial reasons while McConnell remained largely quiet on the reasons for voting against it.

But McConnell told Joe Arnold of WHAS11 Friday that he had, in fact, voted for a stronger version of the bill. McConnell added that he would be “happy to have that debate with my opponent or anyone else” on the issue.

But national Democrats continue to criticize McConnell for voting against the 2013 version as well as the original bill in 1994.

(He was actually for it before he was against it. He voted in November 1993 for a version of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that contained the Violence Against Women Act provisions, then voted against the final conference report in August 1994 that included other measures, such as an assault weapons ban.)

“Mitch McConnell should make good on his promise to debate the female Republican Senators he claims voted for the ‘weaker’ version of the Violence Against Women Act, because the truth is that he has repeatedly fought against stronger versions of the Violence Against Women Act and protecting Kentucky women,” said Regan Page, deputy press secretary at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in a statement to Pure Politics on Tuesday. “It’s obvious Mitch McConnell has no interest in standing up for the women of his state and he continues to openly mislead Kentuckians on his record of protecting women from abuse.

However, McConnell’s office pointed to other votes the senator took in support of protecting women, such as joining 94 other senators to vote for “Aimee’s Law” in October 2000 that increased prevention and enforcement of human trafficking, especially into the sex trade.

And in February, McConnell did vote for an alternative to the bill presented as an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The Grassley proposal kept funding levels the same as the bill but made other policy changes.

The alternative that McConnell voted for changed Section 904 of the bill dealing with Indian tribal members. It would have authorized up to $25 million to place federal magistrates and prosecutors in Indian territories who would be responsible for trying domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence cases, according to summary of Grassley’s measure that provided by McConnell’s office.

The Grassley amendment also included federal mandatory minimums sentences for aggravated sexual assault and would have directed the inspector general of the Department of Justice to audit at least 10 percent of grantees each year.

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said in February that he believed other congressional Republicans had a problem with the VAWA bill that passed the Senate because of language extending protections to immigrants, members of the LGBT community and tribal members.

Similar issues came up in 2012, when again McConnell voted against the renewal of the measure. He defended his position in a May 3, 2012, column to the Courier-Journal:

“This amendment would have left questions of immigration policy to be debated on their own merits, would have held the line on fiscal responsibility instead of raising the deficit, and would have complied with our Constitution,” McConnell wrote. The constitutional question he raised referred to the provisions regarding tribes.


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