Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Date: April 26, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Violence Against Women Act and the policies that impact the lives of women. Since its original enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized twice by unanimous consent, under both Democratic and Republican leadership. The legislation originated out of a necessity for us to respond to the prevalence of domestic violence, sexual violence, and the impact those crimes have on the lives of women.

By and large, the legislation has worked, even though there are outstanding issues, such as spending inefficiencies and needed improvements to oversight. As with most large pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization, there are debates and philosophical differences about elements of various provisions in the bill. While the Senate should be allowed to debate and ideally resolve these differences, I don't think any of the points of controversy we will discuss are important enough to prevent passage of the legislation. The Violence Against Women Act represents a national commitment to reversing the legacy of laws and social norms that once served to shamefully excuse violence toward women, a commitment that should be maintained.

Whatever differences we might have over particular provisions in the bill, surely we are united in our concern for the victims of violence and our determination to do all we can to prevent violence against the innocent, regardless of gender. I recognize women suffer disproportionately from particular forms of violence and other abuse, which this legislation is intended to address. I believe it does address it, and that is why I support it. But our motivation to act on their behalf resides in our respect for the rights all human beings possess, male and female, all races, creeds, and ages: to be secure in their persons and property; to be protected by their government from violent harm at the hands of another; to live without threat or fear in the exercise of their God-given rights.

Similarly, whatever our political differences in this body, I trust we all believe we are doing what we think best serves the interests and values of the American people--all the American people. I don't think either party is entitled to speak or act exclusively for one demographic of our population, one class, one race or one gender. The security and prosperity of all Americans is a shared responsibility and each of us discharges it to the best of our ability. We do not have male and female political parties and we do not need to accuse each other of caring less for the concerns of one-half the population than we do for the other half. The truth is, both parties have presided over achievements and increases in opportunity for women. Both parties have nominated women to the Supreme Court. Both parties have had excellent female Secretaries of State. Both parties have had female Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. Both parties have reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. Both parties have made progress toward ensuring Americans, male and female, have an equal opportunity to succeed as far as their talents and industry can take them.

That progress has come in the form of many policies, from changes to our Tax Code to changes in education policy, to improvements in workplace environment as well as from changes in cultural attitudes in both the public and the private sector. Do we always agree? Do we always get it right? No, we do not. But I do think there is much for all of us to be proud.

Regrettably--and there is always something to regret in politics--we have seen too many attempts to resolve inequities in our society and ensure all Americans are afforded the same respect for their rights and aspirations misappropriated for the purpose of partisan advantage, which has the perverse effect, of course, of dividing the country in the name of greater fairness and unity.

My friends, this supposed war on women or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect. The first is to distract citizens from real issues that matter, and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television. Neither purpose does anything to advance the well-being of any American.

I have been fortunate to be influenced throughout my life by the example of strong, independent, aspiring, and caring women. As a son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather, I think I can claim some familiarity with the contributions women make to the health and progress of our society. I can certainly speak to their beneficial impact on my life and character. But I would never claim to speak for all the women in my family, much less all the women in our country any more than I would venture the same presumption for all men.

To suggest that one group of us or one party speaks for all women or that one group has an agenda to harm women and another to help them is ridiculous, if for no other reason than it assumes a unity of interest, beliefs, concerns, experiences, and ambition among all women that doesn't exist among men or among any race or class. It would be absurd for me to speak for all veterans and wrong of me to suggest that if a colleague who is not a veteran disagrees with my opinion on some issue, he or she must be against all our veterans.

In America, all we can fairly claim to have in common with each other at all times--no matter what gender we are or what demographic we fit--are our rights. As a son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather, I have the same dreams and concerns for all the people in my life. As a public servant, I have the same respect for their rights and the same responsibility to protect them, and I try to do so to the best of my ability.

Thankfully, I believe women and men in our country are smart enough to recognize when a politician or political party resorts to dividing us in the name of bringing us together, it usually means they are either out of ideas or short on resolve to address the challenges of our time. At this time in our Nation's history we face an abundance of hard choices. Divisive slogans and the declaring of phony wars are intended to avoid those hard choices and to escape paying a political price for doing so.

For 38 straight months our unemployment rate has been over 8 percent. Millions of Americans--men and women--cannot find a job. Many have quit looking. Americans don't need another hollow slogan or another call to division and partisanship. They need real solutions to their problems. They are desperate for them.

Americans of both genders are concerned about finding and keeping a good job. Americans of both genders are concerned about the direction of our economy. Women and men are concerned about mounting debt--their own and the Nation's. Women and men are hurt by high gas prices, by the housing crisis, shrinking wages, and the cost of health care. Women and men are concerned about their children's security, their education, their prospects for inheriting an America that offers every mother and father's child a decent chance at reaching their full potential. Leaving these problems unaddressed indefinitely and resorting to provoking greater divisions among us at a time when we most need unity might not be a war against this or that group of Americans, but it is surely a surrender, a surrender of our responsibilities to the country and a surrender of decency.

Within the tired suggestions that women are singularly focused on one or two issues are the echoes of stale arguments from the past. Women are as variable in their opinions and concerns as men. Those false assertions are rooted in the past stereotypes that prevented women from becoming whatever they wanted to become, slowed our progress, and hurt our country in many ways. The argument is as wrong now as it was then and we ought not to repeat it.

We have only these in common: our equal right to the pursuit of happiness and our shared responsibility to making America an even greater place than we found it. Women and men are no different in their rights and responsibilities. I believe this legislation recognizes that. I don't believe the ludicrous partisan posturing that has conjured up this imaginary war.

I yield the floor.