Washington (CNN) – House Democrats pummeled Republicans Tuesday, accusing them of playing politics with domestic abuse legislation.
"We want every member of the House Judiciary Committee to realize that this attack on women is going to be noted across the United States of America," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, during a Capitol Hill press conference.
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Conyers said Republicans were "dead wrong" for refusing to adopt a Senate bill aimed at reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The bill passed with Republican support in late April.
Before Republicans met Tuesday morning to consider their version of the measure, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee came out swinging.
"House Republicans are continuing their war on women by holding the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) hostage," said New York Rep. Jerry Nadler.
The bill, a renewal of 1994 legislation, would provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. Senate Democrats expanded the measure to include funding and protections for same-sex couples, Native Americans, and illegal immigrants–major sticking points for some Republicans.
Instead of adopting the Senate bill, House Republicans are pushing their own version, sponsored by Florida Rep. Sandy Adams, herself a victim of domestic violence. The House bill would toughen sentencing requirements for stalkers who target children and the elderly and increase funding designated for testing rape kits currently piled up in a backlog.
But it limits benefits for victims of domestic violence who are in the country illegally, a move Conyers has said would leave more women vulnerable to abuse. It also does not include provisions–Conyers called "improvements"–aimed at same-sex couples or tribal communities.
As Democrats continued to decry a Republican "war against women" and praise the Senate bill during Tuesday's committee meeting, GOP members fired back, accusing Democrats of goading them into a political fight.
Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, blasted the Senate bill as a "political prop" that provides a "path to citizenship" at the opening of the meeting. Smith was addressing a major point of contention for Republicans: a provision in the Senate bill that would allow victims of domestic violence to seek U visas, an immigration benefit that can be sought by victims of certain crimes who have assisted, or will likely assist law enforcement in the investigation of a crime. It's not the provision itself that Republicans object to but the increase in the number of visas the Senate bill would allow.
"I can assure you, you will not get the vote of the Democratic side of this committee because it is a step backwards and it is a flat-out attack on women," Conyers said - a charge Republicans strongly disputed.
Adams objected to that description as she recounted her own personal connection with the bill.
Adams dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Air Force. She married young, and had a daughter.
"Unfortunately for me, her father, I came to soon find out, was a violent alcoholic," Adams said. "I tried to give him a chance to be a good husband and a good father. However, it became clear that he would not."
She continued: "As we move forward with the third reauthorization of VAWA, I believe it is imperative that the focus remains on helping the victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking rather than turning this into a political talking point.
"To make this a political issue is not only wrong, but dangerous," Adams warned.
Still, Republicans hammered away at the Senate bill. "We need to enforce our immigration laws," said Iowa Rep. Steve King. "If we were doing that, we wouldn't have such a thing as a U visa to advance the number of people here illegally that might become Democrats."
"There's a political agenda here," King said. He was interrupted by California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters.
"I do not want this discussion about violence against women to end up in a discussion against immigration," Waters said. "I understand your position on immigration and hopefully someday we will get into immigration reform."
And in a rare moment of accord, King concurred. "I agree with your point that this debate needs to be about violence against women."
Separately, House and Senate leaders appeared to agree that a compromise should be reached, but at the same time refused to retreat from the battle lines.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor criticized Democrats for "inserting these issues that divide us" but resolved that it is time to "stop the bicker (and) get something done."
And Minority Whip Steny Hoyer accused Republicans of regularly choosing "confrontation over compromise," but said the VAWA reauthorization "should transcend partisan politics.
- CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Bolduan contributed to this report.