John Nichols: Gwen Moore breaks D.C. gridlock to protect women


Washington looked mighty dysfunctional this past week, except if you were watching Congresswoman Gwen Moore at work.

The Milwaukee Democrat has long been a champion of women’s rights in Congress. And she put herself way out front in the fight to renew the Violence Against Women Act.

Moore battled for two years to win renewal of the act, eventually emerging as the chief House sponsor of a robust version that not only maintained the act’s existing commitments but extended protections for gays and lesbians, Native Americans and immigrants. She attracted 200 co-sponsors for her bill, and she kept them firm in their support of it even as conservative Republicans attacked the measure.


When the almost two-decades-old VAWA came up for renewal in 2000 and 2005, Democrats and Republicans got the job done with relative ease. But when the time came for renewal in 2011, conservative members of Congress and their media echo chamber raised objection after objection after objection.

House Republicans finally backed a watered-down proposal, and there was immense pressure for compromise. But Moore refused to go along. She introduced the Senate version of the legislation (with the robust outline of protections developed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) in the House. In doing so, she bluntly dismissed the House version, saying: “Their bill title may say VAWA, but it is far from the Senate bill that works to protect all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking and passed with a strong bipartisan vote.”

Moore fought for the bill that was needed. In alliance with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Michigan Congressman John Conyers, she drew support from women’s rights organizations such as the National Organization for Women, a broad coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups, and health care and community groups that work to combat domestic violence.

Finally, Republicans in the House agreed to allow a vote on the bold proposal supported by Moore. It passed 286-138. Moore and her allies got 87 House Republicans to break with their caucus, a remarkable accomplishment in a chamber where partisan divisions run deep and often prevent cooperation to achieve ends that should not be controversial.

President Obama noticed. “I want to thank leaders from both parties — especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy — for everything they’ve done to make this happen,” he said after the vote.

Moore responded: “For over 500 days women have been waiting and praying for this day to come. Today, the majority of this body stood up for all women — including Native, LGBT and immigrant women. We answered their clarion call and declared that we will protect the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. … Today is truly a victory for women everywhere.”

The VAWA renewal was that. But there was more to it.

This was also a victory for the faith that, even in divided and so frequently dysfunctional Washington, important and progressive legislation can be enacted. Gwen Moore kept that faith, and she prevailed.


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