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Democrats Split on Sex Assault in the Military

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin ís amendment authorizing some changes to address the epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military passed out of committee Wednesday.

Democrats on the Armed Services panel battled each other Wednesday over how to deal with the growing incidence of sexual assault in the military, a rift that pitted the partyís own campaign committees against those who want to preserve the militaryís traditional chain of command.

Despite some support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York watched as fellow Democrats stripped the annual defense authorization bill of her legislation to remove sexual-assault reporting from the military chain of command. Instead, in a rare open session, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., prevailed 17-9 on an amendment authorizing more modest changes to address the epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military.

Gillibrandís bill, which never had the support of Levin or uniformed military leadership, brought together a strange coalition of senators, from Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut on the left to Ted Cruz of Texas on the right. Cruz also suggested that the Senate should revisit Gillibrandís solution if Levinís proposal did not stem the rise of incidents. Six senators who caucus with Democrats voted with Levin, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The panelís two GOP women, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, also voted for Levinís offering.

ďI am deeply disappointed the voices of the victims of sexual assault have been drowned out by the military leaders who have failed to combat this crisis. While, in my view, we did not take all the steps required to solve the problem, there is no doubt we have taken several significant steps forward with the current version of the bill,Ē Gillibrand said in a statement following the vote. ďOur advocacy on this issue to remove the sole decision making of the chain of command in serious crimes has only just begun.Ē

The division exposed on the panel soon could be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reidís problem, as Gillibrand has vowed to continue the fight for her legislation, even given the opposition of fellow Democrats.

In addition to Gillibrand, Blumenthal and Cruz, Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and David Vitter, R-La., voted against Levinís amendment, which would keep sexual-assault cases within the chain of command. Levinís proposal would require the next-highest officer in the chain of command to review any decision not to prosecute a sexual assault. Levinís measure also would make any retaliatory action against a victim of sexual assault a crime.

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