Dingell shouted down, but House passes domestic violence bill

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell speaks as Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, second from right, listen at a news conference after the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Washington — In an unusual display, several Republican lawmakers shouted down Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell on Thursday as she spoke on the House floor about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. 

The National Rifle Association had urged lawmakers to vote against the bill over a gun-reform provision by Dingell to include convicted stalkers and convicted abusers of current or former dating partners among those prohibited from purchasing or owning firearms.

"Do not let the NRA bully you!" Dingell said, directing her remarks to the GOP side of the chamber and raising the memory of her husband, former Rep. John Dingell Jr., who died in February.

"Don't forget who I was married to. John Dingell was on the NRA board. Hell, he helped start it.

"All this does — we are not taking away due process. All we are saying is if someone has been convicted (of abusing) an intimate partner, then they would not have access to a gun. If someone has been convicted of stalking. I would say to all of you —" 

As the Dearborn Democrat spoke, a rising chorus of male members on the GOP side shouted that Dingell's time to speak was up, interrupting the remainder of her remarks. 

Her allotted time had expired, but Dingell kept trying to speak over the warnings of the chair. 

"You know what? You can't shout down a woman," Dingell retorted. 

She was speaking against a Republican procedural motion to substitute the underlying legislation with an extension of the current Violence Against Women Act, excluding  Dingell's provision and other updates. 

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, contended that only a "clean" extension of the law would pass muster in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

"This extension gives Republicans and Democrats time to work together to pass a truly bipartisan, long-term reauthorization of VAWA just like Congress has done many times before," Stefanik said. 

The Democrats' legislation "politicizes" VAWA and "could put women, girls and children at potential risk in the future," she said.

"Voting no on this motion to recommit means you are voting to end the Violence Against Women Act, and instead knowingly voting for a partisan bill that will never see the light of day in the Senate," Stefanik said to her colleagues' applause.

"It will collect dust in the Senate," she added. 

But Dingell argued the GOP extension was too short, "incomplete" and threatened to undermine the statute, noting it left out rape-testing funds and anti-child abuse training.

The House ultimately rejected the Republican motion and voted 263-158 to pass the reauthorization including Dingell's measure, with 33 Republicans joining Democrats in support. 

Before she was shouted down, Dingell delivered an emotional speech on the House floor referring to her own experience with domestic violence growing up. 

"I remember what it was like when you called the police and they didn't come because your father was an important man in town. I remember what it was like when someone on our college campus was raped, and the police came to them and said, 'It's your fault,' and would do nothing," Dingell said. 

"And I don't want anyone in this House to forget that Michigan State University was only brought to the forefront last year when hundreds of victims tried to tell people something was happening, and nobody would listen. We cannot go back to those days." 

Dingell said after the vote that she would fight to pass the legislation in the Senate. 

"I was in the moment. And in case you couldn't tell, I spoke from my heart," she said. 

"Preventing domestic violence and sexual assault against women should never be politicized," Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, said in a statement.

Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, agreed with Stefanik, saying Democrats had "sabotaged" the reauthorization. 

"Preventing domestic violence and sexual assault against women should never be politicized," Bergman said in a statement. 

"I’m disappointed that instead of a clean authorization bill, Democratic leadership chose to add provisions to this bill that would deny due process and fail to offer necessary protections to victims of domestic violence."

Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph was the only Michigan Republican to vote for the bill.

"The big change here is that folks that are convicted or plead guilty to stalking, domestic assault, you know, a number of different things are viewed is not law abiding and, therefore, they lose that right" to firearms. I don't have a problem with that," said Upton, who also supports universal background checks.

"There are a lot of crimes committed against the most vulnerable women by stalkers and others, and it just breaks your heart. We've got to make sure to, legally, give them protections that they need."