The Senate passed a sweeping defense authorization bill Tuesday without floor debates over sexual assault in the military or expanding draft registration to women.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tried to get a floor vote on her proposal to overhaul the way the Pentagon handles claims of sexual assaults by removing prosecution decisions from the regular chain-of-command. But Tuesday, the Democrat from New York did not even get that far.
“Our military justice system is broken. It’s failing our members,” Gillibrand said on the Senate floor. “Once and for all, let’s take this decision to prosecute these crimes and give it to trained independent military prosecutors.”
The language requiring women to register for selective service was already part of the defense authorization bill. So by failing to debate an amendment excising that provision, the Senate agreed to allow for registration
Gillibrand and a bipartisan coalition led on the GOP side by Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa sought those changes, in the face of bipartisan opposition from a separate group of lawmakers often led by Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“It is a serious issue,” Armed Services Chairman John McCain said in reluctantly objecting to the vote Tuesday. “It deserves the attention of the entire United States Senate.”
However, McCain made clear that he opposed Gillibrand’s proposal.
The Arizona Republican said one senator was objecting to consideration of the amendments, and was also blocking a bipartisan package of non-controversial proposals from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
McCain didn’t name the senator. But he has been in a running standoff with Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee. Last week, McCain accused Lee of “signing the death warrants” for Afghan interpreters by blocking an amendment to provide special visas.
Lee has been pushing for a vote on requiring Congress to declare affirmatively when an American citizen can be detained indefinitely on U.S. soil.
Lee had also sought to replace language from the committee’s bill that would expand Selective Service registration to women with a study, but that amendment could not come up for a vote as part of the broader blockade.
McCain said he wanted to see the Senate vote as a body on that issue, as well.