Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin ’s amendment authorizing some changes to address the epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military passed out of committee Wednesday.
As Gillibrand promised another vote, some Democratic senators campaigned on the issue, launching an online petition co-sponsored by both the House and Senate Democratic campaign arms. Eight senators launched a petition to “Stand with the victims of sexual assault” in conjunction with the DSCC and DCCC. The petition specifically endorsed Gillibrand’s bill.
“Together we must ensure that decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assault cases are made by independent prosecutors, not senior commanders,” the online petition reads. “Together, we must ensure that commanders can no longer unilaterally overturn a verdict rendered in military court. Together we can — and we will — do right by our service men and women.”
The Department of Defense estimated that 26,000 incidents of sexual misconduct occurred in 2012. And in recent months, news stories have revealed that some officers in charge of sexual-assault prevention task forces were themselves accused or charged with sexual assault.
The battle over Gillibrand’s bill is not necessarily a family fight Democrats want playing out, especially on a problem that has so deeply embarrassed the military. Even longtime hawk Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently said he could not make “unqualified” recommendations to women seeking spots in the armed services. McCain voted for Levin’s bill.
Still, a Reid spokesman said Gillibrand would be given an opportunity to push her proposal when the defense authorization bill comes to the floor. “Sen. Reid believes very strongly that this is a crisis and it must be addressed aggressively and promptly,” the spokesman said.
Both supporters and detractors of Gillibrand’s measure commended the New York Democrat for pushing the issue into the forefront. As CQ Roll Call reported in March, the Senate until recently had been silent on the issue.
“Her proposal has helped to move this debate,” Blumenthal said of Gillibrand. He added: “From the standpoint of the victim — how the system looks for him or her and my fear is that for the victim, it will look like we’re just tinkering with the system.”
Not all senators felt that way, however. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed concern that the increased attention on the issue could create a culture of presumed guilt in the military for individuals accused of sexual misconduct.
“What I fear is that we’re creating an environment where it’s going to be impossible to be found innocent,” Graham said, after the panel voted to strike down Gillibrand’s bill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.