Senate Democrats dropped their objection to a bill designed to mitigate the rape kit backlog, ending a summer of procedural fighting and giving Senate Republicans a victory as both parties attempt to win women voters.
The Senate reauthorized the Debbie Smith Act, a bill that expedites DNA testing of rape kits, Thursday evening before leaving for the home stretch of the 2014 midterms.
“The Debbie Smith Act has been called the most important anti-rape legislation ever signed into law, because it provides substantial federal funds to help states and localities work through DNA evidence backlogs,” Representative Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), the original author of the bill, said while hailing the reauthorization. “I am hopeful that Congress will take additional steps to ensure that no woman is attacked by a person who could have been taken off our streets if only there were the resources to eliminate the rape kit backlog.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) jabbed Democrats for holding up the bill in April.
“I’m very happy that we could reauthorize this important piece of legislation,” McConnell said after Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) asked that it pass by unanimous consent. “The bill pass the House of Representatives a few months ago on voice vote. we tried to clear it when it come over here. Unfortunately, there was an objection on the other side of the aisle. But I’m glad that we are where we are and that the bill will be reauthorized.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) refused to let it pass by unanimous consent when Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) brought it up in April.
Reid said at the time that if Republicans wanted to pass the Debbie Smith Act, they should do it as part of a broader package of legislation, the Justice for All Act.
“The point is, the [Judiciary] committee met and reviewed the House legislation and decided that they wanted to do more than what the House did,” Reid told Cornyn. “I think we should go along with the committee system. I hear my friends, the Republican leader and other Republican senators talk about, ‘Let’s have the committees do their work.’ They’ve done their work. We approved their work. We’re ready to pass this right now, which is — it approves the Debbie Smith language but does a lot more.”
Cornyn, noting that another Republican had an objection to another part of the Justice For All Act, pushed for Reid to pass the part that had universal support.
“This shouldn’t be a zero-sum game,” he said. “We could pass the Debbie Smith Act today and then we could take up the Justice For All Act when return following the recess. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.”
With the rape kit legislation about to expire — just weeks before an election — Democrats relented.
“I don’t want to pit them against each other,” Leahy said of the bills that Reid and Cornyn had discussed.