Military Sexual Assault Bill Faces Uncertain Future
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) military sexual assault legislation has hit another snag. According to numerous reports, the bill was blocked:
Gillibrand, the junior Democratic senator from New York, believes passage of her bill to shift the decision to prosecute sexual assaults and major crimes from the chain of command to military lawyers is "inevitable," said her chief of staff Jeff Fassler last week.
"We're not giving up on this bill," Gillibrand said as she left the Senate chamber after her attempt to pass it as an amendment last week to the defense authorization bill was blocked.
Gillibrand will try to reach a deal to bring her amendment up again for a vote when the Senate returns Dec. 9 and takes up the defense bill, said her spokesman Glen Caplin.
If that maneuver fails, Gillibrand has reintroduced the measure so she can bring it up on the Senate floor for a vote as a stand-alone bill, Caplin said.
Gillibrand's press office told Breitbart News on Monday that the status of the bill is currently "unclear." Additionally, Politico is reporting that the measure may not be even voted on within the annual defense policy legislation this year:
And, so far, there’s no clear path forward for taking up the legislation as lawmakers head into a two-week Thanksgiving break and have only a handful of days in session in December.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was unable to sketch out how the two parties would come to a compromise that would allow the defense authorization bill and its amendments to move forward.
“Everyone knows we need to address the sexual assault amendments,” Levin told POLITICO. “How we get them voted on, how we get any other amendments voted on, I don’t know at this time other than to say that there are ways of getting a bill done. I can’t tell you which amendments will be voted on, because I don’t know.”
Negotiations broke down over the number of amendments Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would allow on the legislation, with senators such as Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) pushing for more controversial measures on Iran, national security and others to be included. Reid’s hardball tactics in changing the Senate’s filibuster rules could also increase partisan tensions in the chamber, leaving many Republicans unwilling to negotiate even on must-pass legislation.
Although Gillibrand put together a consortium of members from both sides of the aisle to support the amendment and managed to garner support from conservative Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Tim Scott (R-SC) opposed the amendment.
In a piece on Breitbart.com, Paul argued, "I don’t question the military’s motives in trying to fix this injustice, but after two decades of trying to patch up the current system, I think it’s time to let victims find justice outside the chain of command." The Dallas Morning News reported the split between both Texas GOPers on their stances:
Cruz and Cornyn were initially on the same side until Cruz heard the argument made by the bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, during a hearing this summer.
“She made a powerful and effective argument that the lack of reporting is driven by a fear of not having an impartial third-party outside the chain of command in which to report a sexual assault,” Cruz told the Senate Armed Services Committee in June.
Since then, Cruz has appeared with Gillibrand at two news conferences — marking rare moments of bipartisanship for a tea party senator who regularly clashes with Democrats.
Gillibrand’s argument didn’t have the same effect on Cornyn. The two met near the end of September, and Gillibrand said in a recent interview that she left the meeting thinking Cornyn might support the bill.
Last week, Cornyn told reporters that while sexual assaults should not be tolerated, the better option for the military is to create a special counsel to help victims.
“What this would do is not break the chain of command, which is absolutely critical to maintaining order,” Cornyn said.
Senators opposing the Gillibrand bill along with Penatagon Brass remain concerned that the legislation would take away the chain of command from prosecuting sexual assault cases and other major military crimes, Politico reports. Additionally, the White House is not pushing Gillibrand's bill and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch critic of the legislation, told Politico he would do “whatever it takes” to stop the bill. This would including forcing the New York Senator to seek out 60 votes to overcome his threatened filibuster.