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Senate Rejects Gillibrand Military Sexual Assault Bill, Advances McCaskill Measure

Senate Rejects Gillibrand Military Sexual Assault Bill, Advances McCaskill Measure

March 7, 2014 — The Senate on Thursday voted on two bills aimed at reforming how the military addresses sexual assault cases, the Washington Post reports.

Senators rejected a bill (S 1752), by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), that would have removed certain military cases from the chain of command and approved for a floor vote a second measure (S 1917), by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), that includes several less controversial reforms (O'Keefe/Whitlock, Washington Post, 3/6).

Vote on Gillibrand Measure

The Senate voted 55-45 to reject Gillibrand's bill, falling five votes short of the 60 needed to move the bill forward (Zengerle, Reuters, 3/6). The bill would have removed military cases involving crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement from the chain of command (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/28).

According to Reuters, several senators crossed party lines in their final votes on the bill, with 43 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one independent voting in favor, while 34 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one independent voted against it (Reuters, 3/6).

Gillibrand was lobbying for votes up to the final minutes of debate before the vote, Politico reports.

However, McCaskill during floor debate argued that Gillibrand's proposal would lead to fewer successful prosecutions and ultimately disrupt the chain of command. "In addition to it not increasing reporting, in addition to it not protecting from retaliation, in addition to removing commanders from their accountability, we also have some real practical implications," she said (Samuelsohn et al., Politico, 3/7).

She added, "When the sun sets today, this body will have passed 35 major reforms in just a year, making the military the most victim-friendly organization in the world" (Mascaro, Los Angeles Times, 3/6).

Vote on McCaskill Measure

In a procedural vote, the Senate unanimously advanced McCaskill's measure for a floor vote (Politico, 3/7).

McCaskill's bill would not remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command, but it would end the "good solider" defense, which allows a military court to reduce the sentence of service members convicted of sexual assault if they have a strong military record (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/28). It also would allow sexual assault survivors to challenge any discharges or separation from service and require a review by a civilian service secretary if a prosecutor and commander disagree about whether to prosecute a sexual assault case (Cassata, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7).

A floor vote on McCaskill's bill is scheduled for Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, the bill is unlikely to advance in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that the reforms enacted last year struck "the right balance." He said, "I don't frankly see any reason at this point for any further action to be taken" (Los Angeles Times, 3/6).

Gillibrand Backers Seek Another Vote

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the vote on Thursday is "unlikely to be the final word," as Gillibrand and her allies have pledged to bring up the issue again, most likely when the Senate starts considering the 2015 fiscal year defense policy bill this spring.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a supporter of Gillibrand's measure, said, "We will not be stopped," adding, "I've been here long enough to see how sometimes change is painful and slow. But it happens" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7).

Gillibrand said, "We know the deck is stacked against victims of sexual assault in the military, and today, we saw the same in the halls of Congress" (Reuters, 3/6).