Sen. Dianne Feinstein

  • January 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    So the path to new gun control measures must wend through far-right states, such as West Virginia, according to a front-page article in The New York Times. In other words, there’s unlikely to be a ban on military-style weapons coming out of the 113th Congress, thanks largely to the overblown and paranoid concerns of gun enthusiasts in a handful of states that the federal government is bent on trampling Second Amendment rights.  

    That discouraging news, however, did not stop U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein from introducing sweeping legislation aimed at banning the “sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of 157 military-style assault weapon,” and “high-capacity ammunition magazines.”

    As noted here before the Second Amendment, like many constitutional rights, is not absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller pointed that out. But the gun lobby and gun enthusiasts are adept at stirring fear – one measure to curb violence will lead to others, and so on.

    Feinstein is aware of the difficulty she faces. “Getting this bill signed into law,” she said, “will be an uphill battle, and I recognize that – but it’s worth waging. We must balance the desire of a few to own military-style weapons with the growing threat to lives across America. If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn’t a wakeup call that these weapons of war don’t belong on the streets, I don’t know what is.”

    Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) were also co-sponsors of the bill, The Hill reports.

    The measure, The Hill continued, “would also ban semi-automatic rifles and handguns that have fixed magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds and all semi-automatic shotguns that have folding or detachable stocks, pistol grips, forward grips, or fixed magazines with room for more than five rounds.”

    The NRA and pro-gun senators went ballistic, The New York Times reported. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) declared that the “Second Amendment wasn’t written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here.”

  • May 16, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. House of Representatives, which has already passed a budget slashing services to the nation’s most vulnerable to protect military spending, is perhaps not surprisingly, likely to approve a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that guts services for victims of domestic violence.

    The House is expected to approve the reauthorization measure, H.R. 4970 today, despite differing substantially from the reauthorization passed in April by the Senate. The Senate version extends legal services for low-income victims of domestic violence and extends protections protections for undocumented immigrants, Native Americans and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender victims of the domestic violence.

    The House version, however, as TPM reports, did win the endorsement of a group called the National Coalition for Men. That group is devoted to raising “awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys.” As TPM notes neither reauthorization measure addresses on the group’s primary arguments against the Violence Against Women Act – that too many men are arrested on “false accusations” of domestic violence.

    The endorsement by the men’s group did little to assuage concerns of House Democratic leaders and supporters of the VAWA, some of whom blasted the House version as a shoddy piece of legislation aimed at slowing reauthorization.

    For example, the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers, who has railed against the weak VAWA reauthorization being rammed through that chamber, said in a May 16 statement that it “rolls back existing law and fails to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”

    Unlike the Senate’s reauthorization measure, Conyers (pictured) noted that the House’s measure “does little to nothing to ensure members of the LGBT community and Native women are protected from violence.”

    VAWA was enacted in 1994 with bipartisan support and reauthorized twice since then. The Senate reauthorization was sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Though the Senate reauthorization was held up by Republican-led attacks on the extension of services, it was able to pass the Senate with 68 votes.

    Today, Sen. Leahy lauded the Senate’s passage as a bipartisan success, calling it an “example of what we can accomplish when we put politics aside and work to find real solutions to the problems facing Americans.”

    Leahy, however, tagged the House version as seriously flawed.

  • May 8, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    His colleagues did not want to hear it, but the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) blasted the Republican’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as wholly inadequate and a “flat-out attack on women,” as The Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett reports.

    Bassett writes that Conyers’ comment sparked “audible sighs and one ‘Come on!’" from Republicans on the panel. Conyers, however, was reacting to the House version, which strays remarkably from the one the Senate passed in late April. The Senate’s reauthorization bill approved despite Republican opposition includes extensions of services to low-income victims of domestic violence, to undocumented immigrants, as well as more help for Native American women and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender victims of domestic abuse. The House version, H.R. 4970, does not include those extensions of services.

    In statement from House Judiciary Committee Democrats, the measure is described as rolling back “important protections for immigrant victims – putting them in a worse position than under the current law, and excludes other vulnerable populations such as tribal women, college students experiencing abuse …. In short, this legislation seeks to fight domestic violence, but only if the sponsors agree with the race, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victims.”

    Those extensions spurred Republican opposition in the Senate, causing the reauthorization to languish for months. VAWA was passed in 1994 with strong bipartisan support and reauthorized twice since then. But this time around, conservative lawmakers have chaffed at extending services to more people. The obstructionism caught the attention of The New York Times, which said in a February editorial that the opposition was “drive largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.”

    During the Senate’s struggle to pass VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Times that the opposition was part of an overarching effort “to cut back on the rights and services to women.”

  • April 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In 1994 federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle banded together to advance legislation aimed at tackling the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. It was and remains a noble goal. Indeed it represented one of the more communitarian pieces of legislation of the time. The nation it seemed, even if fleeting, to be concerned about bettering the quality of lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable, as opposed to catering solely to the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful.

    Today reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as noted on this blog, is mired in mindless obstructionism. The reauthorization measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and finally passed the Senate today on a 68-31 vote. But House Republicans are itching to keep obstructionism alive, promising their own reauthorization measure.

    Though the Justice Department has reported a decline in domestic violence, a 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services revealed that more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence received federal help in a single day.

    Moreover since enactment of the VAWA it has become apparent that services need to be extended, such as free legal services to victims, authority for Native American officials to respond to abuse of Indian women by those not covered by Indian jurisdiction, more help to undocumented people who are victims of domestic violence, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence.  

    It is this effort to help more people that spurred opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about the reauthorization measure’s additional services. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill’s efforts to expand the reach of domestic violence programs were meant to “invite opposition.”

    Right-wing lobbying groups have also ramped up opposition to reauthorization. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the VAWA reauthorization bill “does real violence to the budget and individual freedom.

    Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, took to the Senate floor to declare that he was not voting against helping victims of domestic violence. He said he was voting against “big government and inefficient spending ….”

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced the reauthorization measure with Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), lauded today’s Senate vote, and said he hoped the House “will soon consider this legislation ….”

    But The Associated Press reported recently that a group of Republicans in the House is working to create a different reauthorization bill. It would likely strip the Senate’s efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gays, lesbians and transgenders.

    During the Senate’s drawn-out effort to reauthorize the VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The New York Times that the Republican opposition “is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on the rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services from women. This seems to be one more thing.”

  • November 10, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While it is unlikely to be replicated in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, lawmakers on the Senate side took a step toward repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, the federal law that discriminates against lesbians and gay men.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee votied in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. Before today’s vote, Democrats rallied around marriage equality, while several Republicans decried the Committee's action as political posturing, and all voted against the repeal bill.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who introduced the measure earlier this year, knocked DOMA, calling it “wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now. There are 131,000 legally married couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law. I don’t know long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

    Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted DOMA for denying equal treatment to gay couples. “The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all our citizens.”

    Sens. Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Al Franken, Christopher Coons and Blumenthal, also weighed in on the side of marriage equality. See some of their comments here.

    Republican Sen. John Cornyn, chided the Committee for moving the bill to the Senate floor where it would not be voted on “this year or next,” as The Huffington Post reports. According to Cornyn, today’s action was all about political maneuvering for next year’s general election.