The Senate is finally ready to take up a controversial bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand aimed at fighting military sexual assault, but though the New York Democrat has been begging party leadership for a vote on the measure for months, it’s unclear that she has the votes needed to pass it.
Gillibrand’s major hurdle remains convincing 60 colleagues to vote yes on cloture — a procedural hurdle before the measure would get a final vote. Gillibrand has 55 publicly declared supporters for her legislation, which would overhaul the military justice system by stripping commanders of the power to choose which cases are prosecuted.
Gillibrand remains insistent she has more than 55 votes lined up and is “optimistic” she can get over the cloture hurdle, but senior Senate aides said the vote could go either way.
Gillibrand’s office is asking her supporters to reach out to Republicans Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to back the legislation.
Other senators Gillibrand’s office is asking her supporters to target are opponents who might be willing to support cloture to allow the bill to pass with a simple majority: Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and independent Angus King of Maine.
Gillibrand’s bill is widely supported by victim-advocacy organizations who have made the reform their top priority, but it is adamantly opposed by the Pentagon’s top brass, who argue it would undermine commanders’ ability to lead.
Complicating Gillibrand’s bid is a rival measure aimed at addressing military sexual assault from Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.
McCaskill’s measure, which is also expected to be voted on Thursday, includes a package of noncontroversial reforms and is expected to pass with a wide, bipartisan majority.
McCaskill’s reform measures would eliminate a soldier’s good military character from being considered part of his defense. It would allow victim input in prosecutions, allow sexual-assault victims to challenge unfair discharge from the service, make it easier for prosecutors to recommend court martials for sexual-assault cases, increase commander accountability, and extend recently adopted reforms to military service academies.
McCaskill argues her bill addresses the issue better than Gillibrand’s, and is not supporting the rival measure.