Vice President Joe Biden said Repulican opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the House of Representatives came from the "Neanderthal crowd." And he gave himself credit for coming up with the law almost 20 years ago.
"Packed into the front room of the Vice President's residence just before 7pm, Biden spoke for about half an hour to the crowd of several dozen people, most of whom played a role in making VAWA a reality. The room was full of chatter as Biden was standing at the mic waiting to talk, so he turned around and let out a piercingly loud whistle, and the room went quiet. He talked about when he first came up with the idea for VAWA legislation in the early 1990s," according to the pool report from an event last night.
"I caused a lot of trouble because I just started writing," Biden said to laughs. "I'm serious. This isn't one of these cases, I didn't ask for staff help, I didn't ask for any help, I was so God darn-- gosh darn mad."
Biden said everyone in the room has helped to save other people's lives through VAWA -- "that's not hyperbole, that's a fact" -- and that they should look back on that reality with pride. He said he's traveled 800,000 miles as vice president (!), and that he's seen how VAWA has had an impact on other nations too.
"It's been "absolutely fascinating to see the ripple effect of this little old Act we passed 19 years ago," he said.
Biden talked about his days as a Delaware senator, working with police, prosecutors and corporations in his home state to try to change the culture of silence around domestic violence. Literally.
"I literally asked for a summit of all the judges in the state. And because I chaired the Judiciary Committee, they were worried they'd never be elevated," he said to laughs. "All kidding aside ... literally every judge in the state but one or two showed up. We laid out ... literally what we expected of them. And things began to change."
Then Biden attacked Republicans:
The vice president said he was "stunned" that House Republicans put up a months-long fight over reauthorizing VAWA earlier this year. Up until this Congress, VAWA reauthorization has been a routine, bipartisan process. This time around, House Republicans held up the bill for months over its new protections for Native American, immigrant and LGBT victims of abuse. The bill eventually passed in February.
"I'm going to say something outrageous," Biden said, with his aides in the room surely cringing. "I think I understand the Senate better than any man or women who's ever served in there, and I think I understand the House ... I was surprised this last time ... The idea we still had to fight? We had to fight to reauthorize?"
Biden blamed "this sort of Neanderthal crowd" in the House for stalling the legislation.
"Did you ever think we'd be fighting over, you know, 17, 18 years later to reauthorize this?" he asked, to audible "no's" in the audience. "Well, you know what? The thing they didn't like, they said we like it the way it is [without the new protections added in] -- believe me, they don't."
Biden recalled how some Republicans accused Democrats of trying to push the envelope too far on VAWA by adding protections for those three groups. He credited women in the Senate with keeping the pressure on Republicans to accept the changes.
"It makes a difference with women in the Senate," he said to applause. "It does. It does, man ... Because they go and look all the rest of those guys in the eye and say, 'Look. This is important to me.'"
The tribal provision in VAWA was arguably its biggest sticking point; some Republicans argued it wouldn't be constitutional to grant tribal courts the ability to prosecute domestic abusers who were non-Native but living on tribal lands with their spouses. Biden laughed off that argument.
"Constitutional violation? Yeah, come on!" he said to cheers.
As for GOP opposition to adding protections for LGBT victims of abuse, he said it's not that people are homophobic, but that they need to be educated on the subject. Speaking of LGBT issues, he recalled an incident last year where he "went off script" in declaring his support for same-sex marriage – in the midst of a presidential election, and when President Obama hadn't yet gone there.
"I make no apologies on the issue of marriage," he said.
Biden had been talking for nearly 25 minutes now, and someone must have given him the signal to cut it off because he abruptly stopped and apologized for still talking
"I'm sorry to go on, but I'm so proud of you," he said to laughs. One woman shouted, "No!" "Keep going!" said someone else.
Alas, he wrapped up minutes later. He thanked the room for their years of work on VAWA and told them, with his voice just above a whisper, that there is "nothing, nothing, nothing I've ever been engaged in matters to me more that what you've made real."
Pool was ushered out immediately. But not before your pooler watched Biden disappear into the crowd, and then reappear back at mic and announced that anyone who is "fool enough to want a picture" with him can come into the back room with a photographer.
Other notes: Jill Biden spoke briefly at the beginning, talked about visiting with women in various countries and being inspired by their strength and successes. Mood of the room was somewhat giddy. Waiters were walking around with glasses of wine and trays of sliced figs with a tiny piece of cheese on top. A handful of lawmakers were in attendance, including Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.), along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). Coons' mom was there too.
That's a wrap. Literally.