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GOP Defends Violence Against Women Act


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, you know award winning actress Glenn Close from her work in provocative movies like "Fatal Attraction" and "Albert Nobbs," but behind the scenes she's also become an outspoken advocate for mental health. We'll learn how mental illness has affected her own family in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to talk politics. The Republican presidential primary is all but officially over. The general election is just months away but that doesn't mean campaign season isn't in full swing. Several local primaries might have a big national impact and we've got new information on the money race in the fight for the White House.

Joining us to talk about all this is Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor. Also with us NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea. Gentlemen, welcome back to you both. Thanks for joining us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Ron Elving, I want to start with the latest fundraising numbers in the presidential race. Mitt Romney and the GOP raised a little more than $40 million in April which is pretty close to what President Obama took in last month. What do you make of those numbers?

ELVING: First of all, there's no surprise that there's going to be an enormous amount of money on both sides of this presidential election. All thoughts of having a publicly financed fall campaign, general election campaign, for president, as we had for a number of years, for several decades, that's gone.

Neither candidate went by that - Barack Obama decided not to take that money in 2008 and when Barack Obama decided not to, that was pretty much the end of it. So in April we saw the president raise about $43 million. That's about on pace for what he's been doing. And we saw Mitt Romney and the Republicans raise almost as much, $40 million, in the first month that Mitt Romney was clearly and really, pretty much acknowledged to be their nominee against Obama.

MARTIN: We're going to switch gears in a minute because we have Representative Sandy Adams with us and she's going to talk about another issue that's been a big controversy on Capitol Hill, but before we hear from her, Don Gonyea, the total that Ron was talking about doesn't include the money that the so-called superPACs are raising and I wanted to ask how you think that's changing the money picture.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, I don't think we can over state how it's changing the money picture. Of course, it's money that the candidates and campaigns have no control over and have no input into how it is spent, what the messages are, so it's kind of wild card money that's out there, wild card for everybody involved. But it's certainly is part of the discussion - has to be part of the discussion when we look at it this year.

MARTIN: And is Congresswoman Adams with us?


MARTIN: Oh, OK. Great. So I just want to thank Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor and NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea for being with us.

I want to turn now and talk about a bill that's sparking some heated debate on Capitol Hill, even by today's super-charged standards. The House of Representatives voted to reauthorize something called the Violence Against Women Act yesterday. This is something that's received bipartisan support since it first passed in 1994. This time was different; it barely passed along partisan lines with a vote of 222 to 205.

That's because the Senate version of the legislation had specific provisions that would offer protections to Native American women on reservations, immigrant women, and lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgender people. Those were stripped out of the House bill at the behest of Republican lawmakers, but a number of Republican women representatives are stepping forward, arguing that their version of the act does protect all women and that this issue is being inappropriately politicized.

We wanted to talk more about this with Representative Sandy Adams. She's a Republican representing Florida's 24th district which includes Daytona Beach, and she also has a very important personal connection to this issue. Welcome to the program, Congresswoman. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ADAMS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I would like to step aside from the politics for a minute, if that's possible, and just ask you what it is about this bill that makes you feel that the House version is superior to the Senate version?

ADAMS: Well, I think that if you look at both versions, you see that we put in a lot more victim-oriented, victim-centered - we built upon what the Senate had but we actually did a victim-centered piece of legislation - we've heard what's, you know, there's been a lot of talk out there, and unfortunately it's politicized an issue that should never have been politicized.

I believe that if we needed to reauthorize it we didn't need to politicize it and unfortunately that's what happened when it came out of the Senate and it's what's been happening all along. And what we are saying is, you know, the victims deserve better. Americans deserve better. We need to just move forward.

Let's get this reauthorized. It has been an all-inclusive bill from the very beginning, since '94. It says all victims. And I think that that needs to be impressed upon a lot of people, that it says all victims. A victim is a victim.

MARTIN: And one of the interesting things about this debate is that - there are a lot of emotional debates on Capitol Hill, but that this is one in which many people have called forward and brought forward personal stories that I think many people may have not expected. Earlier we heard from Representative Gwen Moore. She's a Democrat. She talked about her personal experience with domestic violence.

And you also have one, too. And I just wanted to ask do you mind telling us briefly about that?

ADAMS: Well, I will tell you that at an early age I quit high school and joined the Air Forced. At 17. I was married by 18 and I had a beautiful little girl. Unfortunately for me, I married someone who turned out to be a violent alcoholic, and so - that my story and it wasn't pretty and it was a cycle of violence that he had learned from his family, his father.

And so I just couldn't live in that environment with my daughter, because I wasn't raised in that environment. So at her age three, we left. We left with just our clothes - left him the house, the car, the furniture, everything. But back then, you have to remember, whatever happened between a husband and a wife, people just said, well, that's between the husband and the wife.

And that's what VAWA did. When VAWA was enacted in '94, it brought light to a very bad situation. It brought hope to a lot of people. And, you know, as a law enforcement officer I was - I paid my way through the academy, worked during the day, went to the academy at night, became a law enforcement officer, because I love being able to help people.

MARTIN: I just want to mention, if you don't mind, that you served for 17 years as a deputy sheriff in the Orange County Sheriff's Office. So you have a very interesting take on this, having been on both sides of this issue.


MARTIN: Both as a law enforcement officer and as a survivor, yourself. I did want to mention again...

ADAMS: But also as a law enforcement officer prior to VAWA's first enactment, and post-VAWA. So I've seen all levels of it and that's why I'm so adamant and so passionate about not politicizing this issue.

MARTIN: Can I just get...

ADAMS: This is...

MARTIN: Can I just get your response...

ADAMS: This should not be.

MARTIN: Could I just get your response to one thing? As we mentioned, Representative Gwen Moore spoke with us earlier. She had spoken on the House floor about her experience with domestic violence and she also cited her personal experience about why she supports the provisions that many Republicans oppose. I just want to play a short clip and just ask your take on it. Here it is.


REPRESENTATIVE GWEN MOORE: These provisions were not thrown in there in order to make a political statement about Republicans. These provisions were put in as a result of best practices. People who have litigated these cases, people who have been advocates for these folk, they decided these expansions were really important.

MARTIN: Could I just get your take on that?

ADAMS: Well, you know, we did not have - when we were in committee, they cited one paper, but they didn't cite the fact that in this research that they had, this data paper that they had done, this polling or whatever you wanted to call it, that only less than - I think it was less than seven percent of the respondents responded back and the major complaint in this - within the responses they received back, was lack of data.

And so what we're saying is let's not look - let's not have a solution in search of a problem. What we need is to understand what the issues are. In the committee work, in the committee meeting, the anecdotal issues that were brought forward, had really nothing to do with the actual legislation itself. It may have had something to do with maybe the law enforcement agency wasn't, you know, providing the assistance that they should have. Well, that's a law enforcement agency issue, and that's an officer issue.

And, to me - and I said it in committee - this is a 101 law enforcement training issue. You know, an assault is an assault. You know, I never responded to a scene and said, oh, let me find out who you are first before I determine if there's an assault or not.

MARTIN: Could I ask you one question, though, that seems to have attracted a lot of attention? That's the question of the immigration status of the women involved, the provisions that - the Senate provision would give victims the ability to petition for their own immigration status. And Democrats are opposing that, saying that it compromises the safety - potentially compromises the safety of immigrant women.

My - I have heard on the other side that there are those who are concerned that this would open the door to fraud, to immigration fraud. Is that your concern?

ADAMS: It's current law right now. Self-petitioning is still current law, and the managers' amendment - we took into consideration the concerns that those had about having someone actually interview the alleged perpetrator. And so, you know, the concerns were raised, so we removed that part of the original piece of language that we had, because we are listening.

But the one thing I did point out to a lot of our groups - a lot of our domestic violence groups, and they - when I talked to them - because everybody wants to focus on the immigration side of this one issue - I said, which victim - if you have someone who is abusing their immigrant spouse or about-to-be-spouse, and that spouse gets out of that relationship, they make it out safely, and there's no stopping the cycle of violence on the perpetrator, then which victim doesn't make it out?

And everybody is focusing on - we're trying to be anti-immigrant. No. I'm looking at the victims, here, the new - you know, one victim gets out, but which victim doesn't make it out?

MARTIN: Finally...

ADAMS: And that's what I think we need to focus on, is stopping that cycle of violence. If we have someone that perpetuating that violence, who's attacking people, we need to make sure that we stop that.

MARTIN: Congresswoman, before we let you go - and I do appreciate your time. I understand that you're in the middle of voting, and so it's a very difficult schedule, so thank you for fitting us in. Before we let you go, I did want to mention that there are Republican groups who also oppose this version, like the Log Cabin Republicans. Do you think they just don't understand, or have it wrong? What do you make of it? Or do you still feel it's just election year politics?

ADAMS: Well, I think it's election year politics, and they've listened and heard that, you know, they're excluded, which is absolutely false. They are not excluded. This is an all-inclusive victims' bill, and I think that needs to be just repeated over and over again, because the politics is taking control of this, and it should never have.

MARTIN: Yes, ma'am. Thank you so much.

ADAMS: This legislation has always been a victim-centered bill. It will always remain a victim-centered bill.

MARTIN: Yes, ma'am.

ADAMS: What we have to remember is you start listing the groups. Eventually, you're going to get to a point where you're excluding people.

MARTIN: I see.

ADAMS: Right now, we say all victims.

MARTIN: All right. Yes, ma'am. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it. Congresswoman Sandy Adams represents Florida's 24th District. She's a Republican. She joined us from the House of Representatives studio.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

ADAMS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.