WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday voted to renew and expand legislation that aids victims of domestic violence, setting the stage for a battle in the Senate.
House lawmakers voted 263-158 to reauthorize the 1994 legislation that funds programs such as rape crisis centers, shelters and legal services to victims of domestic abuse.
House Democrats were joined by 33 Republicans in approving the measure, with two Florida Republicans breaking ranks to say yes to the legislation.
The two are U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, of South Florida, and Michael Waltz, who represents Flagler and Volusia counties and portions of Lake and St. Johns counties.
The domestic violence law expired in February, and advocates warn that critical programs will be in jeopardy if it’s not renewed.
The law has long had bipartisan support, but it has become contentious this Congress as newly empowered House Democrats are seeking to expand the measure.
The National Rifle Association is opposing a provision in the bill from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) that makes it easier to keep guns from those convicted of domestic abuse or stalking.
The issue is personal for Dingell. “This is something that I care very, very deeply about, because I lived in that household,” she told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol earlier this week. Dingell has publicly recounted how she hid in a closet from her father, who suffered from mental illness.
“I know what it’s like to live in a household with someone that has issues that can snap at a minute’s notice, and suddenly the gun is pointed at your mother or pointed at you. And as a child, you’re trying to grab a gun from someone and keep them from killing each other.”
But the NRA has called the new gun enforcement language a “poison pill,” arguing that it’s too broad and threatens the rights of gun owners.
Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote on Thursday, Dingell implored her colleagues, “Do not let the NRA bully you. This is not a poison pill.”
The House bill has the backing of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who was an original co-sponsor.
“This is not a partisan issue which is why I put a special emphasis on working to build bipartisan support for this critical legislation,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
Still, most House Republicans voted against the measure on Thursday, signaling an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. Republican leadership sought a “clean extension” of the law earlier this year, but Democrats rejected that in hopes of expanding the bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential contender is leading an effort in the Senate to bar people who have been convicted of stalking or abusing dating partners from owning guns.
Klobuchar said at a press conference Wednesday that she’ll be lobbying GOP senators who have quietly expressed support for similar efforts in past years.
“They didn’t want to have their name on the bill, but they would have voted for it,” she said. “That’s a group I’m focusing on.”
Two Florida Republicans in the U.S. House didn’t say yes or no on the legislation — they were counted as “not voting.” Those two are Florida Reps. Francis Rooney, of Southwest Florida, and John Rutherford, of the Jacksonville area.
Of the 33 Republicans who voted for the legislation, almost half were from Midwestern states, including Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, according to vote results. The other big group of Republicans who voted for the legislation were from Texas and New York.
Phoenix reporter Diane Rado contributed to this report