WASHINGTON — Surrounded by more than twenty Democratic congresswomen, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for immediate bipartisan support Wednesday to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

“For nearly two decades, the Violence Against Women Act has helped to insure no victim of domestic violence has to suffer in silence or in the shadows,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

The House Democrats’ reauthorization is a companion to  Senate legislation sponsored by Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Last April, the Senate’s approved an updated version of the anti-violence law with new provisions to add stiff penalties covering domestic violence cases involving gays and lesbians. President Barack Obama threatened to veto a narrower House bill and the issue was left on the table as 112th Congress adjourned.

The Senate’s 2012 bill – and both of the reintroduced measures this year – would also expand the scope of the law to give new protections to illegal immigrants and Native Americans.

“House Republicans refused to bring the Senate’s bipartisan bill to the floor [last year], leaving millions without a critical line of defense against domestic violence,” Pelosi said. “This Congress has the chance to correct this mistake without further delay.”

Pelosi, the former House Speaker, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., expressed their frustration with Congress’ inability to complete action on an updated law.

“This is an issue of family solidarity and security,” Hoyer said. “I can’t believe there is any House member who is going to get up and say there is somebody who lives in America who I do not believe ought to be protected against domestic violence.”

The Violence Against Woman Act became law with bipartisan support in 1994 under the Clinton administration. Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, was one of the principle sponsors. It provided $1.6 billion in federal money to help investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. In addition, the law established the Office of Violence Against Women within the Justice Department.

Supporters  have credited the law with playing a part in the decrease of deaths from domestic violence and sexual assault crimes over the past 18 years.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., co-author of the new bill, was one of the women who benefitted from the law’s  passage in 1994. She is determined to get it  passed in its new form.

“I was one of the people out there who was getting beat up and sexually assaulted. I was one of those faceless, nameless women who really needed advocates and law enforcement and people on the other end of the telephone to be there.” Moore said. “This is our clarion call to action to the House GOP leadership to make it crystal clear that we’re ready and prepared to make this a priority.”

The reauthorization bill already has 158 sponsors in the House. As of Wednesday, Pelosi said no  Republican House members had signed on to the bill. But  the Democrats said they were hopeful that would change.

“We must not wait,” said Rep. Louis Slaughter, D-N.Y, a co-author of the original law. “It should never have come to this point.”

The existing law is  funded through March because of a continuing resolution signed by Obama in September.