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Violence Against Women Act takes center stage

We first began reporting two months ago on the legislative fight surrounding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. This year's effort has drawn Republican opposition, however, because the bill includes provisions to bolster LGBT protections, defenses for victims of domestic abuse who are undocumented immigrants, and expand the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute crimes.

In previous years, VAWA sailed through the Senate with nary a discouraging word. This year, when the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the bill, literally every Republican on the committee voted against the bipartisan bill.

To put it mildly, Democrats aren't backing down on this. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) held a press conference yesterday to condemn Republican efforts to delay the bill; Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday he finds it "inconceivable" that the bill has been held up; and Vice President Biden, who helped write the bill in 1994, delivered impassioned remarks on the subject yesterday.

So, what's going to happen? The odds of VAWA passage are quite good -- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conceded yesterday that Republicans will not filibuster the bill, and if it gets an up-or-down vote, it's almost certain to pass -- but the Senate GOP minority is nevertheless working on its own scaled-back version of the bill to compete with the bipartisan version.

The Senate schedule is influx, but we may see action on VAWA as early as today. The future of the bill in the Republican-led House is less clear.

And what does the presumptive Republican presidential nominee think of the bill? I'm glad you asked.

In 2004, reporters asked Mitt Romney during his first presidential campaign whether or not he supports the Violence Against Women Act. At the time, he said he wasn't "familiar" with the law and didn't have a position.

This year, Romney is familiar with it, but is afraid to take a firm stand.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, said in an e-mail, "Gov. Romney supports the Violence Against Women Act and hopes it can be reauthorized without turning it into a political football." But she declined to specify which version he supported.

Of course she did. It's just like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- Romney supports the general idea in principle, but he lacks the courage to show some leadership and give his opinion on actual legislative proposals.

This happens quite a bit, doesn't it? Romney has opinions about gay rights, but he's afraid to state his position on North Carolina's anti-gay ballot measure, even when he's in North Carolina. He has opinions about civility and the public discourse, but he lacks the courage to criticize Rush Limbaugh or Ted Nugent. Romney has opinions on abortion rights, but he was afraid to say what he thought about the "personhood" amendment in Mississippi earlier this year. He has opinions about immigration policy, but he lacks the courage to explain in detail how he'd handle undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States. He has opinions about the budget, but he's afraid to go into detail to explain how he'd pay for his agenda.

And now Romney supports a Violence Against Women Act, but he won't say whether he backs the Violence Against Women Act.

The American electorate can tolerate quite a bit, but no one respects a coward.