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Harry Reid blocks Republican request to pass bill cracking down on rapists

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Congress,Joel Gehrke,Harry Reid,Mitch McConnell,War on Women

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scheduled a Friday session that won't have any votes, rejecting Republican and Democratic requests that he allow a vote on a bill that would allow rape kits to be processed more quickly.

“Debbie Smith is an extraordinary woman and an effective advocate," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the Washington Examiner. "She's personally asked me, John Cornyn and others to pass this critically important legislation that bears her name, and it's deeply disappointing that the majority leader is blocking it from reaching the president's desk. I will fight to get this done for the sake of Debbie and sexual assault victims everywhere.”

Smith didn't just persuade McConnell to push for the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney wanted the Senate to take up the bill when the House passed it earlier this week.

"I hope that this bill will quickly pass the Senate and become law," Maloney, D-N.Y., said Monday on the House floor. "This is one of those rare bills that virtually guarantees that it will put real criminals behind bars and protect people more effectively from one of the most traumatic assaults imaginable: rape. The grants provided to states and local governments will allow them to significantly reduce or eliminate their backlogs."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked Reid to allow a vote on the Debbie Smith Act Thursday evening when Reid called the senators to the floor in an attempt to confirm two judicial nominees, one of them somewhat controversial, before the Easter recess. Reid refused, saying that he would only allow a vote on a broader bill, the Justice For All Act, which contains the rape kit language, in addition to other legislation.

"The point is, the [Judiciary] committee met and reviewed the House legislation and decided that they wanted to do more than what the House did," Reid replied to Cornyn. "I think we should go along with the committee system. I hear my friends, the Republican leader and other Republican senators talk about, 'Let's have the committees do their work.' They've done their work. We approved their work. We're ready to pass this right now, which is — it approves the Debbie Smith language but does a lot more."

Cornyn, who wanted the Debbie Smith Act to pass by unanimous consent, didn't want to go to the Justice For All Act because a Republican colleague objects to an aspect of the bill unrelated to the rape kit provision.

"What we can pass is the Debbie Smith Act, which is a piece of this, which there is no objection to that I know of, and then we can get this rape kit issue addressed today," he said. "This shouldn't be a zero-sum game. We could pass the Debbie Smith Act today and then we could take up the Justice For All Act when return following the recess. It doesn't have to be a zero sum game."

Reid accused Cornyn of "diversion [and] delay," suggesting that his refusal to move to the Justice For All Act represented more obstruction.

Delay was baked into Reid's request, though. The Justice For All Act has not passed the House, so the Debbie Smith Act language included in the bill would take effect only after (or if) the House passed that larger, more controversial piece of legislation. If Reid had allowed a vote on the stand-alone Debbie Smith Act, the bill would be headed to the White House for Obama to sign into law.

As Reid's retort demonstrated, during the debate senators made procedural arguments that differ from their standard positions. Reid has short-circuited the committee process during his time as leader, which has angered Republicans who want to influence legislation. And Cornyn was pushing for Reid to use his authority as leader to abandon the regular process and separate a universally supported provision of legislation from a larger bill.

Perhaps Senate Republicans were in a hurry to pass the Debbie Smith Act because, in addition to supporting the underlying policy, they wanted to take a vote that would allow them to counter Democratic suggestions that they're anti-women. GOP senators opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act this week. Perhaps Harry Reid blocked the vote on a bill that would help law enforcement crack down on rapists because he wanted to deny them that defense.

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