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After long wait, Violence Against Women Act renewal heads to Obama's desk

After over a year of legislative limbo, the House passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Thursday, ending the partisan bickering that has plagued the bill since it expired in September of 2011.

The final legislation passed the lower chamber by a vote of 286 to 138 after a protracted battle over an expansion of the law and its impact in tribal communities.  A majority of Republicans voted against the legislation, with 87 GOP members and all Democrats supporting it.

In a statement, President Barack Obama praised the passage of the bill, which he called "an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear." 

"Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse," he said. "Today's vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community." 

Republican leaders first tried to pass a House-drafted version of the bill, which Democrats said did not do enough to protect gay couples, immigrants and Native Americans. That measure failed by a vote of 166 to 257.

The House then passed the same five-year reauthorization that was approved by Senate by an overwhelming majority in February. 

The reauthorization of the law -– first sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Biden in 1994 –- had languished for months as the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House wrangled over details of the legislation. 

Speaking at a dating violence prevention event Thursday, Biden offered a personal thanks to those who fought for the reauthorization, saying that curbing violence against women is a "sacred commitment." 

House Republicans objected to the Senate’s version of the bill because of what they called a constitutional issue surrounding the prosecution of non-Indian criminals on tribal lands. GOP lawmakers failed to insert language that would have allowed tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indians under federal guidelines, and give those criminals the ability to appeal to federal courts.

The White House previously threatened to veto an earlier version of the Republican-drafted legislation, arguing it would have rolled back current laws that help victims of domestic violence.