By Jennifer Bendery
For all her years in Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she'll "never understand" why House Republicans held out for so long before passing a broadly supported Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
"I can never explain what Republicans were thinking. I'll never understand," Pelosi said in a brief interview with The Huffington Post on Thursday. "They either don't know what's in the bill or they're just using talking points."
It has been more than 18 months since Congress last authorized VAWA, due in large part to House GOP resistance to provisions in a bipartisan Senate VAWA bill aimed at Native American, immigrant and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender victims of abuse. The House ultimately took up that bill Thursday and passed it, sending it to the president's desk to become law. House GOP leaders refused to give a similar Senate bill a vote in the last Congress, even though lawmakers in both parties speculated it would have passed. The result was that VAWA didn't get reauthorized -- a first since the law's inception in 1994.
Pelosi said she didn't know what changed that made GOP leaders bring it up this time, and said it was "stunning" that as many Republicans voted against it.
"How do you explain that vote?" she asked.
Pelosi said VAWA has been one of her biggest priorities. She made the unusual move of managing the floor time during Thursday's House debate, in part because she said she knew which members had worked the hardest to get it passed and therefore which ones to bring up to speak. She also said she had a personal history of working on VAWA, dating back to the 1990s with then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).
Thursday's vote marks the third time this year that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has broken the so-called "Hastert rule," or the informal requirement that any bill must pass the chamber with a majority of the majority voting for it. The fiscal cliff vote in January passed with 151 Republicans opposing it and 85 voting for it. The Hurricane Sandy relief package in January passed with 179 Republicans opposed and 49 voting for it. The VAWA bill passed with 138 Republicans voting against it and 87 supporting it.
Pelosi chalked up those votes to tea party-aligned members not being willing to work together as a party, something she said will continue to be a challenge for GOP leaders. She noted that there were items in the Sandy relief bill and the fiscal cliff deal that Democrats didn't like, but they needed to get something done.
"A lot of people don't understand it's your job to be a legislator. You compromise, you find a solution. I don't think they're inclined to be legislators," Pelosi said, suggesting a "party central committee" may be be a better fit for those GOP lawmakers. "When you come here, at some point, you have to be a leader."
For now, though, VAWA is done, and Pelosi was already celebrating in the way she does best: Just before the interview, she conceded she was nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate, an indulgence that shouldn't be too surprising given her self-described "affliction" with chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be specific.
"Dark bar," she emphasized of her post-VAWA treat. "It was a dark bar."