Blame game in standoff over Violence Against Women Act

Ernst says Democrats motivated by her 2020 race; Schumer calls her ‘afraid of NRA’

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said talks with Democrats over renewing the Violence Against Women Act broke down because Democratic leaders did not want senators who are up for reelection next year like her to get legislation passed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said Tuesday that Democrats trying to undermine her 2020 reelection contributed to stalled talks to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Ernst had been working with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California for months on a bipartisan reauthorization bill before both sides said the negotiations fell apart earlier this month.

Democrats argued they had reached an impasse on gun rights provisions that the House, over the objection of most GOP members, added to the bill earlier this year.

Ernst laid the blame partially at the feet of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

“Basically anybody that’s up in 2020, Schumer doesn’t want to move on legislation sponsored by them,” Ernst said.

Democrats said Republicans were doing the work of the National Rifle Association. 

“The House passed it more than 200 days ago,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “Sen. Ernst is simply afraid of the NRA.”

Gun purchases banned

Last week, Feinstein introduced the House version of the reauthorization, and every member in the Democratic caucus was a cosponsor.

Existing law bars gun purchases by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors. The House renewal of VAWA would add convictions for misdemeanor stalking and more domestic abuse crimes to that list.

Feinstein told CQ Roll Call that she felt no pressure from Democratic leadership over working with Ernst.

She said talks “haven’t broken down, they just weren’t going anywhere,” after eight months, so Feinstein introduced the House-passed measure. She said she’s still open to a compromise with Ernst.

Ernst argued the House-passed bill was a “nonstarter” in the Senate, saying it is “full of political talking points.”

She said she was preparing to introduce a bill that would not include an expanded ban on gun purchases and provisions to increase support for LGBTQ victims at shelters. The measure also would change House-approved language that expanded Native American jurisdiction over non-tribal defendants on reservations.

Ernst said she plans to introduce her own version of the bill later this week, but is still approaching colleagues to add cosponsors. Two she mentioned to reporters — Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas — will also be on the ballot next year.

Ernst and Cornyn ranked Nos. 7 and 10 on CQ Roll Call’s list of the most vulnerable senators on the ballot next year. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Ernst’s race Lean Republican, and Cornyn’s Likely Republican. President Donald Trump carried both of their states by 9 percentage points in 2016.

It’s not clear how either bill could move without bipartisan support, because Senate rules require bipartisan support for current legislation.

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