Mar 17, 2021
Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats Press Conference on Violence Against Women Act Transcript March 17
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a press conference on March 17, 2021 to discuss reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Read the transcript of the full news briefing speech here.
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Steny Hoyer: (00:00)
Of the Criminal Justice Committee and the Judiciary Committee and the really spark behind this bill two years ago and this year, Sheila Jackson-Lee, I will yield to her but let me just say a few words and then Sheila, I must speak on the floor, I know you’ve been on the floor as well.
Steny Hoyer: (00:20)
You still have a passion demonstrated by a victim of domestic violence. Now whether or not the violence was delivered to her personally or to her parent and she was in fear as she said of her mother’s life, this is a pandemic in America. It is a lethal pandemic in America. It is a psychological trauma in America. The House is about to pass a longterm reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which was previously blocked by Senate Republicans, sadly.
Steny Hoyer: (01:03)
It was then Senator Biden of course who wrote this original VAWA in 1994. I was a co-sponsor of that bill in 1994. Sheila, were you a co-sponsor of that?
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (01:14)
Came right after that.
Steny Hoyer: (01:15)
You came right after that. I was a co-sponsor in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act. President Biden is ready to sign this bill and I hope the Senate will act on it quickly so he can do so. VAWA has always been bipartisan. We passed and reauthorized VAWA on a bipartisan basis in ’94, 2000, 2005 and 2013. It was disappointing that after the House passed a bipartisan reauthorization last Congress, the Republican-led Senate refused to take action, even after it was clear that incidents on domestic violence were increasing during the pandemic.
Steny Hoyer: (02:00)
Now when I say they refused to take action, they didn’t take up the bill and amend it and then send it over to us or asked for a conference. They just ignored it. They apparently took the position that violence against women is not important enough for us to take up and consider the bill. They didn’t have to take our bill. What they had to do was address a pandemic of violence against women in America. So disappointing. In my state of Maryland, court records indicate that there were 3,244 protective orders in place in April of 2019. Women who were in danger, however in April of 2020, amid the lockdowns to protect against COVID-19, that number had dropped to 470.
Steny Hoyer: (02:56)
Now my immediate response as I read that, I looked up, “Dropped to 470.” It dropped to 470 because women were not able to make their complaints in the lockdown period. Not because they got less, in fact, they got worse. We need to enact the broader protections … Excuse me, let me give this … It rose again to 4,116 in June after the lockdown was lifted. This has been called a pandemic within a pandemic, I’ve said that a couple of times now. We need to enact the broader protections that are included in this bill to have victims of domestic violence, if we are serious about addressing this crisis.
Steny Hoyer: (03:46)
I expect today that we will see another bipartisan vote and I hope that the Senate will act without delay. I know Leader Schumer will bring it to the floor. It will not languish unattended. As President Biden said the other day about reauthorizing VAWA, this should not be a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s a matter of justice and compassion, and I would add to that awareness. I want to thank Representative Jackson-Lee for leading this charge and I want to thank Chairman Nadler and members of the Judiciary Committee for their work last Congress and again now to ensure that more people are protected under this reauthorization.
Steny Hoyer: (04:34)
Now as I said at the beginning, I am pleased to yield to and introduce a fighter for justice for all of her life and certainly all of her career in the Congress of the United States, a giant on behalf of civil rights, human rights, and the rights of women and all other vulnerable peoples, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. Sheila?
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (05:00)
Mr. Leader, thank you so very much.
Steny Hoyer: (05:01)
I’m going to the floor to speak.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (05:04)
Thank you so very much. All of us are between the ERA and this bill but let me indicate to all of you, that if there’s ever a fighting spirit, it is now. To save the lives of thousands upon thousands of women and some men who have lost their lives in the midst of a battle simply to be who they are. In the latter days of Christmas of 2020, Ms. [Fontano 00:05:32] in my community was having a joyous Christmas with her two children and yet in spite of that joyous Christmas, just a few days, her husband Jeffrey Fontano came to kill her, which he did. He made the 911 call and said he shot his wife.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (06:00)
I have stood alongside and been part of the fight for the Violence Against Women Act before I came to the United States Congress. As a board member of the Houston Area Women’s Center, I saw fleeing women, women who had no place to go, who were living in an antiquated system where they could not stay in a home, that their name was not on a lease or they might have been immigrant women. So I am enthusiastic to say that although we reauthorized this in 2005, in 2000, the last reauthorization was 2013. We wrote this bill, it was ready to move in 2018, the year of its expiration. Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican president, they would not move this bill.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (06:51)
I’m very pleased to say that this is the bill we wrote and I wrote in 2018, that it has moved along and again, the Senate did not move this bill. Now we have a robust bill. A bill that embraces where we are in America.theViolence Against Women Act, with the leadership of our speaker and our chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is a strengthened bill, we include the amendments that were in the bill in the 116th Congress but we expand $110 million for rape prevention.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (07:26)
A very important legislation that deals with intervention, cultural training, a whole area that deals with indigenous women, Native Americans, women of different cultures. A new position in the Violence Against Women office, a deputy director dealing with cultural sensitivities. Training for men and boys, the recognition that there should be legal assistance no matter who you are, immigrant and non-immigrant. We provide for that assistance.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (07:57)
We ensure that small grantees are not denied the opportunity to receive federal funds like giving them training. As I indicated, we invest in prevention, we expand access, and yes, likewise, we ensure that if you are a convicted stalker, misdemeanor, then the opportunity for you to have a gun is denied. The framework of this bill however is framed in due process. We want women to live. We want victims of violence to live, men or women. We want children to be able to have a parent. We want to make sure that if you are fleeing a domestic violence situation, that you can be expedited into housing. That did not happen before, and we will look forward to working with the Housing and Urban Development agency under the leadership of our new secretary to ensure that we make this work. We’re excited about this legislation. More money to ensure that police and prosecutors can do their job again under due process framework.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (09:08)
Finally I will say this bill leaves no victim behind. It helps the Native American women that have not been helped before and of course we are delighted that it is bipartisan. My challenge, as soon as this bill leaves the House, we will be meeting with senators to ensure that this bill has a full and vigorous review and that we are able to move a bill out of the United States Senate. We are delighted with Representative Fitzpatrick who was here, who is one of our bipartisan co-sponsors, and we are certainly appreciative of the leadership as I said of our speaker. With that in mind, we will pass H.R. 1620 today. We will historically in this month of Women’s History Month say to Ms. Fontano, who had a wonderful Christmas with her children in 2020, and a few days later, she was dead with a bullet by her husband. Dead with a bullet by her husband. We will say in her memory, no more, and we will embrace this legislation to fight against the scourge of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, rape, and we will say no more. My privilege to be able to yield to the guiding force that has led us on these vital and vigorous and important bills of liberty and freedom and that is Speaker Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi: (10:33)
I thought [inaudible 00:10:35] our distinguished chairman.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (10:36)
All right, you’re on the list –
Nancy Pelosi: (10:41)
He has four bills on the floor today [inaudible 00:10:41].
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (10:41)
We will now go to our distinguished chairman who also is a visionary and has led this fight. I’m glad to be working with a lot of visionaries and Chairman Nadler is someone who I’ve had the privilege of serving with on the Judiciary Committee and he is a visionary but he is also a fighter and he keeps his word. Chairman Nadler.
Jerry Nadler: (11:02)
Thank you very much. Everyone who will speak at this press conference has been a visionary on this issue. I mean it. I want to begin by thanking the sponsor of this legislation, the chair of the Crime Subcommittee Sheila Jackson-Lee who just spoke, for her longtime leadership in this effort. We also want to thank the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the other members assembled, who have all been such champions of this legislation.
Jerry Nadler: (11:25)
In 1994, then-Senator Joe Biden authored landmark legislation called the Violence Against Women Act, the VAWA. The programs created under this law have provided support to millions of women and others who are victims of domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The prevention programs contained within the law have saved countless lives and untold trauma. We are here today to carry on this important work and to strengthen it even further.
Jerry Nadler: (11:56)
VAWA has been reauthorized three times on a bipartisan basis, and each time we consider a new reauthorization, we examine what is working and what can be improved and we make needed amendments to the law. I appreciate the bipartisan support of Mr. Fitzpatrick and all of his work on this legislation, but some of our Republican colleagues [inaudible 00:12:15] simply extend the program which sunset in 2018 with no changes. That would in effect be like going backwards. Too many people depend on the services provided by VAWA to take half-measures. Every year, approximately 7.9 million women are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner and an average of three women are killed every day by a current or former intimate partner. These grim statistics underscore the crucial need for us to act without delay to reauthorize VAWA and to enhance and expand the act so that it is getting even more effective.
Jerry Nadler: (12:52)
We passed a version of this bill in 2019 but it did not get a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Senate, where even the needs of survivors of domestic abuse were ignored. Now that we have a true champion of efforts to protect women leading the Senate in Majority Leader Schumer and a president who literally wrote the original VAWA Act, I know that they will do everything they can to see this legislation become law.
Jerry Nadler: (13:20)
In a debate we’ve been having on the floor, I’ve heard some of the Republican speakers say that we can’t pass this bill because after all, we can’t extend the deadline because the deadline is in the Constitution. Well they’re wrong. The deadline is not in the Constitution. The deadline was subject to the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th and 28th, not the 27th, amendments. If you look at the Constitution you will not see the seven-year deadline in it and that’s because they’re not part of the Constitution. So we have the power to pass this legislation, we certainly ought to pass this legislation, and I thank everyone involved with it and I now yield to the distinguished Speaker of the House, Ms. Pelosi.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (14:13)
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:15)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I also thank him for yielding to me on the floor for the Equal Rights Amendment legislation that we passed there where the deadline was a point of order. Madam Chair, Sheila Jackson-Lee you have been a constant, relentless, strong advocate champion for the Violence Against Women Act and every chance I get I want to commend you for that because so many women in America benefit from your advocacy, your relentlessness and your persistence.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:55)
I rise here to join you at this press conference in support of this legislation and others have referenced the fact that Joe Biden was the author of this in 1994. The distinguished leader in the Senate Mr. Schumer was very much a part of passing that legislation as well and many of us were minions at the time, running around to get the bill passed and then later following that as appropriators to get the bill funded. So this has been a priority in every way for a long time.
Nancy Pelosi: (15:34)
The last time the bill was authorized was 2013 under the leadership of President Obama. Because others have referenced what Republicans have said on this, that and the other thing, I want to just recall how we got this bill passed at that time. The bipartisan bill passed the Senate, the United States Senate, and when it came to the House, then Speaker Boehner did not bring the bill to the floor, did not bring the bill to the floor, did not … It already passed in a bipartisan way in the Senate. We shall we say had some outside mobilization where people spoke up and wanted the bill to be brought to the floor. All the Republicans said, “You want a VAWA? We’ll have a VAWA.” They had a bill that they advanced. Our pitch as the minority to the speaker was to say, “Bring both bills to the floor and we will have one be pre-eminent on the floor.” The Republican bill, the Republican bill which they wholeheartedly supported said, “We’re against violence against women unless you are a Native American woman, unless you are LGBTQ, or unless you are an immigrant woman. Then you don’t have any protection against Violence Against Women.”
Nancy Pelosi: (17:02)
They thought was really a good bill and they voted with great exuberance and enthusiasm overwhelmingly for that bill. Happily enough of them also voted for the bipartisan bill that had passed the Senate and we were able to have the bill signed by the president at the big signing ceremony introduced by a Native American woman and of course the Vice President of the United States who had been an early author of the Violence Against Women Act. It was cause for celebration.
Nancy Pelosi: (17:39)
Over time we always want to review acts of Congress, laws that are made to see what can be improved upon and Congresswoman Jackson-Lee has been a master at doing just that. She has been a leader in reviewing it, making positive suggestions about how it all could be changed, and here we are. Now she tried that subsequently after five years under the Republican majority, that didn’t work, so here we are now, just on the verge of passing it here, hopefully getting bipartisan support once again in the Senate, where so much of this started, and legislation that became law in 2013.
Nancy Pelosi: (18:29)
So I thank … It’s my honor to join Chairwoman Jackson-Lee. Of course Congressman Fitzpatrick, Representative Dingell, Chairman Nadler, Leader Hoyer, and all of us and so many others. We’re wearing white today because on the floor right now, we’re doing an Equal Rights Amendment and here in this room we’re doing Violence Against Women at the same time that is St. Patrick’s Day and I wish you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, white and green and as I said to [inaudible 00:19:04] I just had a virtual meeting with the prime minister of Ireland, I don’t have Irish grandparents but I do have Irish grandchildren, Liam, Sean and Ryan and not only that, a grand-Labrador, silver green-eyed lab with green eyes as I say, whose name is Shamrock, and today he’s wearing a green scarf.
Nancy Pelosi: (19:29)
So on this day of celebration for many reasons, that we’re passing the ERA, that we’re passing the Violence Against Women Act that we will also pass immigration legislation. It’s wonderful to put our enthusiasms into action, into legislation to make a difference in the lives of the American people. Sheila Jackson-Lee does that every single day in the Congress, I’m pleased to yield back to her with gratitude.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (19:53)
Thank you Madam Speaker. Let me thank you so very much and again add my appreciation to Speaker Pelosi for being the driving force that this bill is coming on before April 1. Representative Fitzpatrick, Representative Dingell, Chairman Nadler, Leader Hoyer, and all of the women who have been intimately involved in this great effort, let me finalize by saying that this bill opens the door of the armor of the federal government in its protection of women who [inaudible 00:20:27]. Yes, it is a culturally sensitive initiative that protects immigrant women, it protects Native Americans, it protects poor women, it provides legal assistance to all persons and it has a culturally responsive and consistent outreach through culturally assisted focus in dealing with these women. It is based on prevention and intervention and protecting those against the perpetrators with guns who are their intimate partners and the dating violence, it does not have to be intimate. We do everything we can to give security and protection. It is a robust bill as I have said and Ms. Fontano’s legacy is embedded in this bill along with nameless other women and men and those in LGBTQ community who have experienced the rash of this violence, and in the midst of COVID-19, we have seen the rise in domestic violence in cities as diverse as Portland, San Antonio, and New York.
Sheila Jackson-Lee: (21:36)
It’s our commitment and my commitment working with my colleagues that enough is enough. We will pass the Violence Against Women Act and we will not be thwarted by the challenges of our friends accusing it of being an abortion bill, accusing it of being too broad, extending it for one year. We will not accept those challenges again. We will not be thwarted, we will not be denied, we will not end this fight until President Biden, the father of VAWA, signs this bill and we are again protecting women and men and families that have been the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and being there with no one available. Thank you all very much.