Gillibrand’s Moment of Truth on Sexual Assault

The Democrat is getting her long sought-after vote Thursday for a measure to reshape the way the military deals with assault accusations, but she may leave the floor empty-handed.

WASHINGTON, DC -: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is still asking for votes for her military sexual assault reform. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Add to Briefcase
Stacy Kaper
March 6, 2014, 7:36 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
Obama: Michelle Will Never Run for Office
17 minutes ago
North Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent
2 hours ago

The protest over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline turned violent overnight as the police and National Guard sought to remove the protesters, surrounding them with assault vehicles and officers in riot gear. The law enforcement officers used pepper spray and fired bean bags for more than six hours. In response, the protesters "lit debris on fire and threw Molotov cocktails in retreat." One woman pulled out a gun and fired at officers, narrowly missing before being arrested. The protesters claim the pipeline would be constructed on land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

House Leadership Elections Slated for Nov. 15
2 hours ago

The House has scheduled leadership votes for Nov. 15, the day after members return from their election recess. "Since mid-September, members of the House Freedom Caucus have weighed whether they should ask leadership to push back the elections so they can see how House Speaker Paul Ryan performs at the end of the year," but leaders don't seem inclined to grant their request.

Feds Announce Rapid GDP Growth in Q3
2 hours ago

Gross domestic product "expanded at a 2.9% annual clip from July through September. That’s a marked improvement from the first half of the year when the U.S. grew just barely over 1%." The robust numbers make it more likely that the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates at its next meeting.

Oregon Militiamen Found Not Guilty
2 hours ago

"A federal jury on Thursday found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation, threat or force during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Bundy brothers and occupiers Jeff Banta and David Fry also were found not guilty of having guns in a federal facility." In a strange "coda" to the decision, Bundy's attorney Marcus Mumford was tackled and tasered by marshals in the courtroom as he argued that Bundy should be free to go.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.