Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that “as an American” he is “shocked” there is not widespread support for the Violence Against Women Act.
“I’m the attorney general, so I can’t get political here. But as an American I am shocked,” Holder said Friday during a panel addressing violence against women and girls at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy, coming as what the Democrats are calling the “war on women” continues to rage on Capitol Hill and in state houses across the country.
Speaking with about 25 leaders in anti-domestic and sexual violence advocacy, Holder said VAWA is a “no-brainer” that shouldn’t even be bipartisan — it should be “non-partisan.” The bill, enacted in 1994 and authored by Vice President Joe Biden, has brushed up against little opposition in its history until recently, as an expanded version is up for reauthorization in the Senate. The bill provides federal funding to state and local authorities to improve services and criminal justice response to domestic violence and sexual assault, among other things. Two new provisions — added protection for illegal immigrants and gays and lesbians — have sparked a bitter fight among Democrats and Republicans.
“In 2012, as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, I am shocked I have to bring this up as an issue,” Holder said at the panel, which he co-hosted with Lynn Rosenthal, the White House adviser on Violence Against Women. “I will continue to call on congressional leaders to take action on this important legislation.”
Also at the panel was the new acting director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson. Hanson is moving into the interim position as previous director Susan Carbon steps down and moves back to New Hampshire to be closer to family.
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Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the lone Republican to voice support of the bill during Senate floor debate. ”The Violence Against Women Act is an important commitment to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse that they are not alone,” Murkowski said. “This is a promise that resources and expertise are available to prosecute those who would torment them and also a reason to believe that one can actually leave an abusive situation.”
Holder said he will be meeting soon with Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss VAWA and the Justice Department’s role in the surrounding issues. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the reauthorization in February, but all eight Republicans on the committee voted against it. Holder also said he will continue to meet with President Barack Obama about the legislation.
The attorney general said he’s sure Biden, the law’s author, is as “befuddled as I am with this reauthorization on the Hill.” Holder said he saw the effects of domestic violence every day as a D.C. Superior Court judge, with women facing an unfair court battle as they came in without the means to hire an attorney. He said sometimes during a recess would track down Georgetown University law students working at the courthouse to represent the victimized women. Later, as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Holder created the first Domestic Violence Unit in the office’s history.
Holder said $8 billion is lost a year to domestic violence through loss of productivity and health care costs. An additional 8 million paid days of work are lost, which accounts for 32,000 full-time jobs — all “jaw-dropping numbers,” the attorney general said.
Women’s issues have become more prominent recently, as Republican president candidate Rick Santorum has made his opposition to birth control part of his campaign, while Mitt Romney, considered the GOP presidential frontrunner, recently expressed support for ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was foisted into the spotlight after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa refused to allow her to testify at a hearing about health care coverage of contraceptives.
Also on hand was Obama, who gave a speech at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, saying it “makes no sense” that the bill’s reauthorization is being called into question. “This is not something we should still be arguing about,” he said.
The president said these issues are personal, not just a matter of policy. The White House released on Friday a 55-page report on the status of women and the economy. At present, he said, more than 1 million young women receive health care under a parent’s health insurance plan who would otherwise be without coverage — something that could change if the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the Supreme Court.
Holder said he will continue to work with members of the cabinet and congress to push for VAWA’s reauthorization.
“There are so many areas at risk,” he said. “We have to make sure our voices are heard, that people who get it are supported and that at the end of this electroal process we have in place people who are committed to these issues.”