Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act was the latest example of how Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into "a legislative graveyard" that buries bills passed in the Democratic-controlled House.
"Even the common-sense bills with broad support from one end of America to the other that are passed by the House — here, a bill protecting women from violence — meet the grim fate at the hands of the Senate's self-proclaimed 'grim reaper,' " Schumer said, referring to a nickname McConnell has adopted as a badge of honor for defeating Democratic bills.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., went further, saying the Kentucky Republican has earned the deadly nickname. "Well, the grim reaper is responsible for a total of 144 women who in the last 48 days have been killed by their abuser," Speier said at a news conference at the Capitol. "That is disgusting."
Speier was referring to the 48 days since the House passed the bill renewing the domestic violence law. The 25-year-old law lapsed in February, although grants funded under it continue through September.
A spokesman for McConnell called Speier's comments unfortunate and said they "have no place in our civil debate." As Senate leader, McConnell "has repeatedly tried to prevent VAWA from expiring, only to be denied by Democratic leader Schumer and his caucus," spokesman David Popp said.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California have been working on a bipartisan plan to extend the law, but have not yet produced legislation. A spokesman for Feinstein said the lawmakers were continuing to negotiate, but declined further comment.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the Senate should approve the House-passed bill, which includes a provision making it easier to take away guns from violent offenders even if they are not a spouse or domestic partner. The amendment closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole" by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a current or former dating partner from buying or owning a firearm.
Klobuchar and other supporters called the measure crucial to protect women in the United States, who die from gun violence at rates far higher than in other high-income countries. "This will literally cost lives if they try to negotiate (the gun-control provision) away," Klobuchar said.
The National Rifle Association said language aimed at "former dating partners" was overly vague and could result in the law being applied too broadly. Democrats are intentionally politicizing the domestic violence law "as a smoke screen to push their gun-control agenda," said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
Before their news conference Wednesday, a group of House Democrats marched to McConnell's office demanding a Senate vote. "Do your job! Do your job!" the lawmakers chanted as they walked from the House to McConnell's office.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is the bill's lead author in the House, said McConnell should be careful about promoting himself as the grim reaper. "You don't want to be a grim reaper when someone is dying because of domestic violence," she said in an interview.
Klobuchar challenged Senate Republicans to be as "brave" as their House counterparts who supported the bill despite opposition from the NRA. "If these guys aren't brave enough to join their 33 Republican colleagues in the House and take on the NRA, then they aren't brave enough to be in office," she said.