Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has only 55 senators signed on so far, but she said Sunday she’s confident her proposal to strip military commanders of their power to prosecute sexual assault cases will get enough support to clear a threatened filibuster.
In an appearance Sunday on “Face the Nation,” the New York Democrat predicted she would get the 60 senators needed.
“I think we’re going to pass this bill. I think we have the votes we need. We already have a majority of the Senate behind it,” Ms. Gillibrand told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer. “We have more support than … declared and I think we will get the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster and even 60 votes for the measure.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has been actively opposed to the bill, said the Gillibrand proposal is overkill.
“Commanders are accountable. They’re accountable to their people, to their systems. That’s the way the military has to work,” he explained. “But if you disconnect the commanders … then you were taking away a certain responsibility of that commander on not only knowing what’s going on in his or her command, but actually having some responsibility. I don’t want to do that. I want more responsibility put on our commanders, not less,” he said in an appearance on the same program,
Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed to revisit the issue over the next two weeks after a December debate was cut short.
Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, became the 55th public supporter of Ms. Gillibrand’s bill, which would move final decisions about prosecuting sexual assault cases outside of the military chain of command.
“I have thoughtfully studied this issue and sat down with my colleagues and stakeholders. Protecting those who protect us is of the utmost importance,” Mr. Moran said last week.
Sex assault cases in the military have drawn national attention, but reports suggest the bigger problem is the number of cases that go unreported or where commanders decide not to pursue them.
Congress has been grappling with how to correct that, and Ms. Gillibrand’s proposal is the most far-reaching.
The Gillibrand bill calls for an independent military prosecutor outside of the chain of command to decide whether or not to prosecute sexual assault cases.
She said that would reduce instances of favoritism or retaliation from commanders and ensure decisions are based on evidence and the facts.
If she can’t muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, the Senate will then turn to a counterproposal from Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, which would make smaller changes.
Her bill would let victims decide whether the case is tried in civilian or military court, and would prevent someone’s past good behavior from being used as a defense against sex-assault charges. A number of other changes supported by Ms. McCaskill already became law in last year’s defense policy bill.
Ms. McCaskill has vowed to filibuster Ms. Gillibrand’s proposal, saying that stripping military commanders of their prosecutorial discretion would backfire by resulting in fewer prosecutions of predators and less protections for victims.
Greg Jacobs, policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network and a former Marine, predicted Ms. Gillibrand’s bill shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the 60 votes needed to get past Ms. McCaskill.
Both the Gillibrand and McCaskill proposals were supposed to get votes as part of the debate on the defense policy bill in December, but got swept aside when the debate was cut short.