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Rubio missed the year of the woman

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Rubio one of 22 male GOP senators to vote no on Violence Against Women Act
  • Granderson: Just as Rubio was to show new face of GOP, he cast a vote that's the old face
  • Rubio's reasons were absurd, he says, in light of a bill that really works to protect women
  • Act's funding 17% less than in 2005, he says. How could a women-friendly GOP say no?

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- You would think that in the shadow of a general election dubbed "Year of the Woman," the last thing any Republican in Washington would want to do is tick off women.

And while the Violence Against Women Act passed in the Senate by a healthy bipartisan majority a few hours before President Obama's State of the Union address, the fact that 22 senators -- all Republicans, all men -- voted against it should be troubling to GOP leaders.

And perhaps the most troubling aspect of that is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the so-called savior of the Republican Party, was one of those Republican men.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Just think: A few hours before Rubio was to deliver a message reflecting a new Republican Party, he casts a vote that screams more of the same. The jokes about him fidgeting like a 5-year-old and chugging water during the rebuttal will eventually go away. But if he's seriously thinking about running in 2016, that one vote is going to come back to haunt him. Especially if a revitalized Hillary Clinton, and her 18 million cracks in the ceiling, is in the race.

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Domestic violence vote key test of more inclusive GOP

In a statement, he said he "could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs, although there's no evidence to suggest this shift will result in a greater number of convictions."

The Senate-version of reauthorization extends protections to Native Americans, gays and lesbians, and immigrants. It would allow the prosecution of non-Native Americans for abusing Native American women.

Regarding that, Rubio said he voted against the bill because of "concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons in Indian country, including non-Indians."

Translation: From a political standpoint, Rubio blew it long before he lunged off-camera to grab a swig of water. And Democrats wasted little time pointing this out.

GOP's Rubio rips Obama

GOP responds to the State of the Union
Rubio's water break a big hit online

Voting against a bill to help women because you're not happy about the amount of money being spent on domestic violence vs. sexual assault is splitting some pretty fine hairs and just isn't choosing the right fight.

Especially when juxtaposed against the success of the programs.

From the time the act passed through 2010, intimate partner violence declined by 67%. There has also been an increase in the arrests of suspects in domestic and violent sexual crimes. The new legislation has a provision that speeds up DNA analysis in rape cases and a program to fight human trafficking.

And if spending was a concern, the $659 million the Senate approved for Violence Against Women programs for the next five years is actually 17% less than the amount approved in 2005.

How could the face of a new, kinder, women-friendly Republican Party say no to that?

Perhaps the reason why he needed water during the rebuttal is because he got cotton-mouthed listening to his party's resounding approval when Obama mentioned the Senate passing the bill during the State of the Union address. Or maybe he felt a tad faint when House Speaker John Boehner was seen looking over and talking to Vice President Joe Biden -- who co-wrote the first incarnation of the bill nearly 20 years ago -- as he clapped in support.

Talk Back: Is giving the State of the Union response a political 'kiss of death'?

And trust me, Boehner did not spend a lot of time applauding Obama or talking to Joe.

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is spearheading the negotiations of a House bill, and Boehner received a letter from 17 House Republicans urging them to take action, stating that the act's "programs save lives, and we must allow states and communities to build upon the successes of current VAWA programs so that we can help even more people."

The GOP knows that between the embarrassing remarks about rape made by several candidates during the last election cycle, the record 20 seats held by women in the Democratic-held Senate and the 55% of women who voted for Obama, regaining power requires a makeover.

Rubio appeared to be someone who could embody that change, but he didn't do himself any favors Tuesday. Not with his rebuttal and certainly not with this vote.

Opinion: A kinder, gentler, wiser Marco Rubio

"Mr. President," Rubio said in his speech, "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."

I'm going to assume none of his neighbors are women.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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