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Transcript of House Democrats Press Conference on Reintroduction of Violence Against Women Act

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Ranking Member John Conyers, Ranking Member Louise Slaughter, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, and House Democrats held a press conference today announcing the reintroduction of the Violence Against Women Act in the 113th Congress. Below is a transcript of the press conference:

Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. It is a very special occasion for us to come together around a piece of legislation that strikes to the heart of our families and our country. I am pleased to be here with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer; Ranking Member Conyers of the Judiciary Committee; Congresswoman Gwen Moore, the author of the Violence Against Women Act; and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. We will hear from them. Congresswoman Slaughter was one of the original cosponsors when we passed the bill way back when, originally. And also to be joined by so many of my colleagues from the House at a time when the House has adjourned and they are still here, this is very important to us.

On Monday, Americans heard our President issue a clarion call to action, to live up to the highest ideals of equality and opportunity, to make real the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, House Democratic leaders are here to fulfill that promise to protect the lives and secure the liberty and the happiness of America's women and families by reauthorizing and strengthening the Violence Against Women Act.

For nearly two decades, the Violence Against Women Act has helped ensure that no victim of domestic violence has to suffer in silence or in the shadows. Its passage, led by then Senator Joe Biden, at the time the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was a watershed moment for history -- in our history. And in the years since, we have come together in a bipartisan way to reauthorize and expand the reach of this law. Now we must do it again.

The last Congress had the opportunity to take this action. The Senate passed a strong bill with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 31 -- 68 to 31. Yet House Republicans refused to bring the Senate's bipartisan bill to the floor, leaving millions without a critical line of defense against domestic violence. This Congress has a chance to correct the mistake without further delay. Today, with 158 cosponsors and counting -- that is in the House -- including every woman Democrat in the House, Democrats are reintroducing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which would strengthen existing protections, expand protections to LGBT Americans, immigrants, and Native Americans. This bill already has bipartisan support in the Senate already, including from key Republican women Senators. So it is already bipartisan there. And it is time for their House Republican colleagues to follow suit and join the Senate in a bipartisan backing of this measure. Failure to enact this bill would deprive women and children of vital protection against abuse, and law enforcement of essential tools to combat domestic violence. We must act now.

After almost two decades of success, the facts are clear: the Violence Against Women Act works. It has saved lives; it has made women and children and their families safer. And this year we will build on that history of progress.
With that, I am very pleased to yield to the distinguished champion on this issue for many years, in fact decades, Steny Hoyer.

Whip Hoyer. Thank you very much, Leader Pelosi, and thank you for your leadership.

I am very pleased to join Gwen Moore and one of the few males that is standing here with all these wonderful Members of Congress who are women, [Ranking Member] Conyers. I am proud to join in reintroducing the Violence Against Women Act in the 113th Congress. This is on the premise that although we had an opportunity in the 112th Congress and, as the Leader has pointed out, in a bipartisan fashion the Senate acted, we failed to act, but it is never too late to do the right thing. Now, this will give this Congress the opportunity to do the right thing and do it in this Congress.

Domestic violence prevention has always been an area where Democrats and Republicans worked together. It is disappointing that we still have not sent a bill to the President's desk to be signed when we could have passed a bipartisan Senate bill last year. But Democrats will continue to urge the Republican House leadership to work with us to pass a bill that protects all victims of domestic violence and does more to prevent those crimes.

This is not just a woman's issue. This is not just a man's issue or a children's issue. This is an issue of safety. This is an issue of security. This is an issue of health. This is an issue of family solidarity and security. This issue transcends any of the distinctions that are very important, but the common interest that we have in passing this bill is overwhelming.
As a cosponsor of the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and as a father of three daughters, a grandfather of two granddaughters, and the great grandfather of a great granddaughter, I hope to survive in time to vote for this bill. This bill is therefore personal for me but personal for every American. Let's get it done without delay.

Unfortunately, we did pass a bill through the Senate. The problem with that bill, it excluded people.

Leader Pelosi. In the House.

Whip Hoyer. In the House. We excluded people from its coverage and its protection. I can't believe that there is any House Member who is going to get up and say: "there is somebody who lives in America that I do not believe ought to be protected from domestic violence." Let us hope that is not the case. Let's pass this bill.

Gwen Moore, John Conyers, thank you. Madam Leader, thank you.

And, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your leadership, your passion, your courage to get this bill done.

Thank you very much.

Leader Pelosi. Our distinguished Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, who has been fighting this fight and leading the charge for decades, as well, Mr. Conyers.

Mr. Conyers. Thank you so much, Madam Leader, and to our distinguished Whip. Before our beloved Gwen Moore got to Congress, Steny Hoyer and I were introducing the Violence Against Women Act. It has gone through a number of iterations, and we now have the real version, improved over the Senate, in which hundreds of groups participated -- law enforcement officers, advocates, survivors of this horrible kind of cruelty. And so I am so proud that Gwen Moore is now with us to get this across the line.

I must point out that I am optimistic enough, Madam Leader, to think that we will get Republican support on this bill. And with that spirit, I am proud to stand with all of you ladies and a couple of guys.

Leader Pelosi. Congresswoman Moore?

Ms. Moore. Just let me say what a privilege it is to be standing here with Leader Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and John Conyers, the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Louise Slaughter, and even Donna Edwards here, who was the first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
I just want to thank them for being here in 1994 when this was passed, because I was one of the people who was kind of out there getting beat up and sexually assaulted and who was one of those faceless, nameless women who really needed advocates and law enforcement and people on the other end of the telephone to be there. And I am so proud to be here today.

I am so pleased to say that not only do we have 158 sponsors here in the House, but in the Senate this bill has been reintroduced by Senators Leahy and Crapo, who have championed this in the Senate. And they have introduced it, along with three Republican women Senators -- Murkowski, Ayotte, and Collins -- and others. And so I, too, share in the optimism that we are going to be able to get this over the line with bipartisan support.

This is our call to action, our clarion call to action, to the House GOP leadership to make it crystal clear that we are ready and prepared to make this a priority. The Leader has set aside one of her very precious -- her very precious first bill numbers for the Violence Against Women Act to show and to demonstrate that this is our highest priority. We are here on behalf of victims, survivors of abuse and assault, those people who sit there and answer the call, legal services, people who run shelters, people who see the children that need help in order to be able to not become batterers or victims themselves, law enforcement. Who doesn't know how to reauthorize this?

I mean, this program, just like every other program, has taken cuts, and we have tried to reorder things and combine things so that we can get the efficiencies out of the program. We are trying to put a greater focus on sexual assault. But, you know, it doesn't matter that these are quality programs, it doesn't matter what the quantity of programs is if everybody doesn't have access to the programs. And as Ranking Member Conyers has said, you know, access is what it is about. And as Steny Hoyer has said, who is it out there that we don't want to serve?

I am so proud to look at my colleagues and to realize that we have, you know, every race, every creed, every color here. We have, you know -- we have representatives of the women's community here to represent every woman in America. And we are praying that this is just the beginning of a short journey toward reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

I am so pleased to be here with Louise Slaughter. Louise Slaughter was the first author, I believe, of the Violence Against Women Act here in the House in 1994. And I am so pleased to be sharing this podium with her today and would ask her to join us to make a comment.

Ms. Slaughter. Thank you so much.

First, I want to say this. It is a lot different here this morning than it was in 1994. First, we have the Madam Leader, for which we are extremely proud, and a lot more women here, as well as the men who have stood with us all the way through. In 1994, I had been here just a little while, but I had a pretty good grounding in criminal justice in both the New York State legislature and Monroe County legislature in Rochester, New York. And domestic violence had been an issue that I knew very little about but was extremely troubled by. And the great former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and I worked about a year and a half to get it done. We knew some things that -- research in those days told us that in most cases, they had found that abusers were persons who had been abused in their life or had grown up in a house where abuse was common. We didn't quite recognize that connection there. And I had a young woman when I was working on the bill here in Congress whose father died when she was young. And she was married. This was in the late '80s, early '90s. And her husband abused her, and she didn't know that that was not normal.

I know that won't sound right to you today, with what we all know today and everything we are schooled in, but that was not that uncommon. But we knew we had to break that cycle of violence or we would never be able to deal with this problem. So that was a large part of what we wanted to do with the bill.

In addition, we spent a lot of time and a lot of years had gone by training law enforcement, from the police on the street to the district attorneys to the judges, so everybody involved would know how serious this was. And we made it -- absolutely the first time we could absolutely talk about it -- was that what the police had to do was separate both the abuser and the abused, that this was not a matter of going in and trying to break up a fight, going away, and leaving it to go on behind closed doors. This was one of the greatest steps I think that we have taken in criminal justice and to protect the people who were weak and vulnerable in the household.

So we have reduced the numbers now, as you know, 61 percent. All of this has worked together to do this.
And I will tell you, though, this past election I met three young women in my district that I had never talked to about this before. And it is one thing when we all talk about the work we put into it, the research we put into it, 50 percent of this in section A 4 and all the rest of it. But when you talk to a young woman who says that when I was 17 I left home with a soldier who took me to Colorado and beat me to a pulp, and the Army would not help me, and your office brought me back and had my face put back together -- that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are here. That is what happens with the legislation that we passed. That may be what will happen if we don't get this legislation renewed. We must not wait. It should never have come to this point ever. If we have to put it on suspension, whatever we have to do, people are waiting out there for us to continue what we have done since 1994 until we don't see this anymore.

So, I am delighted with the action here this morning, and I know that we are going to get it done. Gwen gets things done, so we are going to get it done. But thank you all very much for letting me be a part of it.

Leader Pelosi. Well, thank you for your leadership, Congresswoman Slaughter.

She doesn't take "no" for an answer, as we know. Listening to Louise reminds me of what was happening in the '90s when we passed this bill. Marcy Kaptur, Rosa DeLauro, Nita Lowey, we all had to work on the funding on the Appropriations Committee. That was the next step, and that, again, had its challenges. But we ended up having some bipartisan support for that, and that was good. And then there were other issues that related to testing the income of the abuser for women who needed legal assistance. And when they would go for legal assistance, they would say, "well, you don't qualify because your household income is including the income of the abuser." And so there were many hurdles. And the example of when Louise talked about individuals and when you talk about individuals, we learned so much from those. And, frankly, for some of us, it was an education that was required because none of us had that experience in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, and the rest. Maybe it was there; probably it was, and we just didn't know it. But it was like, who would do that? Who would hit somebody? But they did. And this bill has to pass.

So we are very -- thank you all very much for being here.

Ms. Slaughter. Can I just say one more thing? Because I want to thank you for this because…

Leader Pelosi. Say it in the microphone.

Ms. Slaughter. As far as I am concerned, we have the health care bill because of Leader Pelosi. And up until the time that bill was passed, eight states and the District of Columbia considered domestic violence to be a preexisting condition. Did you know that? And if you had been beaten up before, you could not get insurance because you would get beaten up again.

So, you know, we can talk about decades ago, but this was the last couple years.

So thank you again for that.

Leader Pelosi. Thank you.

We have time for a few questions. This started later than we anticipated because of the floor.


Q: Madam Leader, I have a question on an unrelated topic. If somebody wants to ask about this, if you wouldn't mind coming back.

Leader Pelosi. Okay, thank you.

Q: Okay.

Leader Pelosi. On this subject? Because we have before you, as was mentioned, Donna Edwards has a long history with this. Many of our colleagues, from their work in the community and their city council, state legislatures, although some of them may be new to the Congress, are not new to this issue.

Yes, sir?

Q: Do you at the moment have any Republican sponsors? And if not, when?

Leader Pelosi. Well, we hope so. And we are very pleased -- I think it is Senator Murkowski in the Senate and one more Republican.

Ms. Moore. Ayotte, Collins in the Senate.

Leader Pelosi. Ayotte -- and two in the Senate on the legislation.

Q: But no House Republicans?

Leader Pelosi. Not yet in the House, but we are hopeful.

Ms. Moore. We are working on it.

Leader Pelosi. We are hopeful. We go forward in a very positive and open way. And many of the Members have said to me: "I know" -- like, if they represent Indian country and the rest -- "I know of the abuse that is going on, I know that we have to support something like this." They support their leadership to encourage them to be more open about the Senate passed Violence Against Women Act.

Yes, sir?

Q: Madam Leader, I am wondering how this bill specifically is the same as, or different from, the Senate bill last time, which you all have hailed as a model, particularly in two issues: the U visas for immigrant women who cooperate with police and the tribal courts jurisdiction.

Are those provisions maintained in this? Because I think the Senate stripped the U visa provision out. So I am wondering how yours differs from the Leahy bill?

Ms. Moore. Well, in particular, it is sad but true that there was an expansion of U visa protections that we were seeking, and it created a, quote/unquote, "blue slip" problem. So, in order to take away any excuses for getting the bill called up here in the House, they took out the small revenue that would create the blue slip problem.

Q: Did you all leave it in?

Ms. Moore. No, we did not. We don't want that to be a problem.

Q: So does this match word for word the bill that Leahy and Crapo introduced?

Ms. Moore. Yes.

Leader Pelosi. Yes?

Q: Thank you for coming back. You spoke, you know, very -- it was clear what your position was about the bill that was just passed on the House floor. Senator Reid took a very different approach here, said he would take this bill up as is, and commended Speaker Boehner.

Is there a disconnect between the House and Senate…

Leader Pelosi. No, there isn't. I think this is a -- let me just say about the legislation that passed on the floor today, the Republicans produced 199 votes. They just don't seem to be able to get to 218, 218. Our Members, we just said to them, we told them what we thought was wrong with it, but they had to vote the way -- there is sort of a booby trap in the bill about -- what is it? -- pass the budget or don't get paid or whatever it is. And there are many of our Members, including Mr. Hoyer, a champion on this, who don't think that should ever be something that is part of a bill. But it enabled them to get Republican votes and also some Democratic votes on our side. But I don't think that -- let me say, this will take the process down the road. I just think it is the wrong path to go down. I think they are causing another path to a cliff. But, you know, we are talking about short term, and if the Senate and the White House wants to celebrate the disconnect between debt ceiling and spending for the moment, for the three month moment, then fine.

I don't think this was a big deal today, in terms of whether the House leadership and the Senate leadership were in agreement. I think what is a big deal about it is, it is the wrong path to go down. What they are saying is, you want to get paid? Well, let's make sure seniors pay, by eliminating the Medicare guarantee. You want to get paid? Let's make sure children, people with disabilities, and those and other seniors in long term health care pay the price. Children, investments in the future, their education, their personal fulfillment, the aspirations of their families, and the global competitiveness of America, that will pay a price, too. And our veterans will pay. So if you want your paycheck, this is the budget that goes with it.

I think it is all wrong, but the fact is the one part of it that has, shall we say, some appeal was that it was a recognition that for three months and for today it wouldn't be connected to the debt ceiling. I don't know if any of you follow -- what you do at night, I don't know, but last night I watched the Ways and Means Committee hearing run very late at night. And if you saw that hearing, you would have heard the testimony of Simon Johnson from MIT, is it? Who talked about the fact that we should never be talking about the debt ceiling as to if there is any question as to whether it would be raised. Just the mere discussion of it, as was the case a year and a half ago, lowered our credit rating -- lowered our credit rating.

So, I do not find it necessary to dignify a gimmick that the Republicans put on the floor with a booby trap that they could exploit at home, saying they didn't want to vote against getting paid unless there was a budget. I just didn't want to dignify that. I thought it was a gimmick. The problems, the challenges are serious. We all know we have to reduce the deficit. We have committed to spending cuts over a trillion dollars in the Budget Control Act. We have had a trillion dollars ourselves in the Medicare and the Affordable Care Act and other actions. We know that has to be done, we know there has to be revenue, we know there has to be growth. And what are we talking about? Gizmos in a bill unworthy, beneath the dignity of the issue that is before us: the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

Q: Did you talk to Leader Reid at all about it?

Leader Pelosi. No.

Q: Madam Leader, also on another subject quickly, could you discuss your possible divided loyalties, having been born in Baltimore, and San Francisco in the upcoming Super Bowl?

Leader Pelosi. I am wearing red. That is a 49er color. Let me say this, and I told this to Mr. Hoyer when he said he wanted to make a wager. I said, I am rooting for the 49ers, I am not rooting against Baltimore. My father built Baltimore Memorial Stadium as Mayor, brought the Colts there, brought the Orioles there. I am a Baltimore sports fan as my second team; now it is the Ravens. I am so proud of them. But my constituency is San Francisco, and my children were raised going to games with Joe Montana and all of the stars, Steve Young and everyone since then. And I most certainly will be supporting, as I say, rooting for the 49ers, not rooting against the Ravens.

I was rooting for both of them to go to the Super Bowl, and then they both did. But the only consolation I have is the Harbaugh parents must have a more difficult decision to make on that day. But I fully intend to be at the game.

So thank you very much. Thank you all.

Thank you so much, colleagues.

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