By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON – If Republicans are truly engaged in a “war on women,” as the Democrats claim, they are fighting it about as well as Gen. Custer did at Little Bighorn.
First they were routed over their objections to contraception. Then they had to defend Rush Limbaugh’s insults of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke and Ted Nugent’s description of two top Democratic leaders as “varmints.” On top of that, the Republican National Committee chairman is on record drawing a parallel between women and caterpillars, and Democrats have been ambushing Republicans almost daily with topics as varied as mammograms and membership at Augusta.
On Wednesday, the White House staged an event to demand that Republicans stop blocking a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act – and Republicans suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a title that only a fool or a lunatic would oppose.
“The idea that we’re still fighting about this in the Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,” Vice President Joe Biden said in an emotional performance on the White House grounds. It “should just be over in terms of the debate about it. … What are we arguing about?”
Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking from the same stage, proclaimed himself equally distraught. “For the life of me, I can’t begin to understand why this is something that is a debate in Congress,” he lamented. “It is inconceivable to me – inconceivable to me – that we are in the process of debate about something that has been so effective.”
Their outrage – Biden alternated between shouts and stage whispers, even giving his rendition of an emergency call from a victim of domestic violence – was palpable. Which was particularly impressive because the “debate” over renewing the Violence Against Women Act has been pretty much silent.
The legislation was on the Senate floor Wednesday when Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, rose to speak. “The Postal Reform Act is before us, and it’s my understanding that we have an opportunity here.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y, the presiding officer, interrupted. “The Senate is currently considering the motion to proceed on the Violence Against Women Act,” she reminded him.
“Oh, sorry,” Durbin said. He then requested permission to talk instead about the postal legislation, which he called “timely.”
In truth, a veto-proof majority already has been assembled in support of renewing the 1994 act, which means Senate passage is not in doubt. The objections a few Republicans have raised are over provisions that Democrats are trying to link to the law’s renewal, including protections they would add for same-sex couples and illegal immigrants who suffered abuse.
Whatever their objections, Republicans are virtually certain to fold. Democrats have been so relentlessly uniform and monotonous in pounding the opposition on women’s issues that Congress may need to pass a Violence Against Variety Act.
At the White House on Wednesday, Paula Zahn led a panel discussion in which the participants hailed the success of the Violence Against Women Act. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett hailed the president and vice president’s support for women. Holder hailed Biden’s and Jarrett’s support for women. The mother of slain University of Virginia student Yeardley Love hailed Biden’s support for women. And Biden hailed his own support for women. “It’s great to be with so many people that I agree with,” he said with a laugh.
Although his speech was on teleprompters, Biden roamed as he made his case, using a whisper to describe a woman’s call for help (“I’m standing between Gap and – oh my God, I see him coming”) and a shout of “92 percent!” to show how many American women think that reducing domestic violence and sexual assault should be a top priority.
Mostly, though, Biden was confused about why those Republicans don’t join “right-minded people” in renewing the law. “These guys don’t get it,” he said, lowering his voice. “What would it say to our daughters, our wives, our mothers, about whether or not they are entitled to respect and their government believes they’re entitled to be free of this violence? … Just imagine the impact on the moral disapprobation of society if this Congress refuses to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.”
Only at the end did Biden tell the audience that he expected the legislation to be renewed. But that isn’t important. In the war against the war on women, the Democrats are taking no prisoners.
Dana Milbank’s email address is email@example.com. He writes for The Washington Post Writers Group.