Senate plan to change U.S. military sex assault rules still short on votes

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 6, 2014 3:25pm EST

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) walks to an interview on Capitol Hill in Washington November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) walks to an interview on Capitol Hill in Washington November 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The senator leading a push to overhaul how the U.S. military handles sexual assault complaints made an urgent appeal on Thursday for more support as the measure stood seven votes short of passage before a vote expected as soon as next week.

Fifty-three U.S. senators now back the reform effort led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, still short of the 60 the bill likely will need to get through the Senate.

Gillibrand urged more senators to back the measure at a news conference on Thursday with other bill supporters, advocates and veterans who survived sexual assault.

Gillibrand's proposal would remove the power to decide whether to try sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and put it into the hands of an independent military prosecutor.

"Nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee has been sexually assaulted, except in the U.S. military," said Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.

The problem of sexual assault in the U.S. military has been under intense scrutiny in Congress since an annual Pentagon study released in May 2013 estimated that incidents of unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, jumped by 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000 cases from 19,000 the previous year.

The Department of Defense has also been struggling to deal with a spate of high-profile cases of sexual assault, including some involving personnel charged with combating the crime.

Gillibrand's plan is backed by 44 Democrats and nine Republicans but faces stiff opposition from the Pentagon, where top military leaders argue that prosecutions must remain with commanders to maintain good order and discipline.

It also faces resistance in the Senate, where lawmakers failed to approve the plan late last year as an amendment to an annual defense spending bill. The intense lobbying on behalf of Gillibrand's plan - as well as for a rival, less sweeping overhaul also backed by a bi-partisan group of senators - has caused friction within the chamber.

Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, chief backers of the alternate plan, held a meeting with reporters on their bill on Thursday that began during the Gillibrand news conference.

Among other things, the McCaskill-Ayotte measure would remove the "good soldier" defense, which refers to the ability of a military court to reduce the sentences of troops who are found guilty of sexual assault but have strong military records.

Fifty-three senators is a majority in the 100-member Senate, but chamber rules mean most legislation requires a "super-majority" of 60 votes to pass.

Gillibrand said she thought she could win over enough of their colleagues to get to 60, but in a possible sign they lacked confidence, several supporters insisted the problem was so severe it should be allowed to pass with a simple majority.

Ayotte and McCaskill said they expect to win the 60 votes. Many lawmakers, including Gillibrand, back both plans.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (2)
AlkalineState wrote:
It already has majority support. The only reason it needs 60 votes is because the GOP wants to filibuster it. They want to prevent a vote from happening, on changes so obviously necessary, they know they won’t win. So more stalling, more GOP stupidity.

We literally have a circumstance now in the military, where a friend of the perpetrator can overturn a conviction that was handed down through due process. This has happened. And this is what the GOP is fighting to keep in place.

Feb 06, 2014 3:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
my640 wrote:
Those that are trying so hard to get in the way with passing The Military Improvement Act, enacting it and all corrections that would help should be responsible for these crimes. Everyone knows what has been going on it is not hidden information that many in the military has allowed rapist, violent attacks, and sexual assaults get off of their harms, by doing favors and destroying the person that was harmed and reported the crimes. Those that are responsible for not allowing this to be corrected and passed you are responsible for all other rapes that happens both in and out of the service. Getting mad at someone that got permission to go to you to report any sexual violent crimes, attacking the person and causing the person’s health to be destroyed by abusing your power in the most horribly way leaving them to suffer for the rest of their life it pure evil. There are some that truly treat others so unlawfully hateful and so many incidents it is mind boggling that it has gone this far. You military persons, higher echelon should be on board with this. It will make your life and all others so much better and safer. Why would anyone not want this to be corrected wanting and allowing rapes to continue. Why would you want to destroy a person’s life?

Feb 08, 2014 6:48pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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