New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman portrayed conservative Republicans as reeling from the renewed focus on so-called women's issues, but only vaguely mentioned that Obama's approval ratings have actually slipped since the public focus on abortion and contraception, in his front-page story Thursday, "Women Figure Anew in Senate's Latest Battle."
With emotions still raw from the fight over President Obama’s contraception mandate, Senate Democrats are beginning a push to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the once broadly bipartisan 1994 legislation that now faces fierce opposition from conservatives.
The fight over the law, which would expand financing for and broaden the reach of domestic violence programs, will be joined Thursday when Senate Democratic women plan to march to the Senate floor to demand quick action on its extension. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has suggested he will push for a vote by the end of March.
Democrats, confident they have the political upper hand with women, insist that Republican opposition falls into a larger picture of insensitivity toward women that has progressed from abortion fights to contraception to preventive health care coverage -- and now to domestic violence.
“I am furious,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington. “We’re mad, and we’re tired of it.”
Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman -- with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.
Some conservatives are feeling trapped.
Republicans say the measure, under the cloak of battered women, unnecessarily expands immigration avenues by creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery. More important, they say, it fails to put in safeguards to ensure that domestic violence grants are being well spent. It also dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, they say.
Critics of the legislation acknowledged that the name alone presents a challenge if they intend to oppose it over some of its specific provisions.
Weisman fuzzied up President Obama's clear tumble in recent polls that suggest the GOP is not suffering from the focus on birth control and abortion the way the media expect (hope?) it will.
Polling appears mixed over which side gained political ground on the fight, but Republican lawmakers are not eager to revisit it. State efforts in Virginia and Ohio to mandate ultrasounds before an abortion or ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected have further inflamed passions. And the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday pounced on a suggestion by Mitt Romney that he would eliminate federal financing for Planned Parenthood.
Following the Times's standard labeling overload on identifying "conservative" figures, Weisman doubles up on the labels, using four when two would suffice.
But if Republican lawmakers are not eager to oppose a domestic violence bill, conservative activists are itching for a fight. Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the conservative Concerned Women for America, said her group had been pressing senators hard to oppose reauthorization of legislation she called “a boondoggle” that vastly expands government and “creates an ideology that all men are guilty and all women are victims.”
Last month on the conservative Web site Townhall.com, the conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly called the Violence Against Women Act a slush fund “used to fill feminist coffers” and demanded that Republicans stand up against legislation that promotes “divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.”
At least Weisman (albeit in the second-to-last paragraph) included a missing piece from Tuesday's front-page Times story about the paper's own polling, showing the unpopularity of the Obama-care mandate that employers be coerced to cover contraception.
Republicans say they see that line of attack coming and will try through amendments to make the final version more palatable. But if Democrats dig in, Republicans will stand their ground, Mr. Blunt said, pointing to a new New York Times/CBS News poll that showed Americans supporting an exemption to the contraception mandate for religiously affiliated employers 57 percent to 36 percent. By 51 percent to 40 percent, Americans appeared to back Senate efforts to grant employers an exemption on religious or moral exemption grounds.
“Our friends on the other side are in serious danger of overplaying their hand on this one,” Mr. Blunt said.