Tag : US

Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have joined an upstart effort to remove the  chain of command from military sexual assault cases, POLITICO has learned.

The tea party favorites give the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Kirsten  Gillibrand, critical conservative cover as she battles the Pentagon and hawks in  both parties on her proposal to create a new prosecution system for major  military crimes.

Paul is scheduled to attend a press conference Tuesday in the  Capitol with Gillibrand and other bill backers, including Sens. Chuck Grassley  and Barbara Boxer, to discuss his new position, which inches the New York  Democrat closer to the 51 votes she hopes is all she’ll need when her proposal  comes up for debate as early as next week.

The issue of military sexual assault came under intense scrutiny this spring  on Capitol Hill when top military commanders from each branch of the service sat  before the Armed Services Committee and swore they’d stamp out sexual assault in  the ranks – but stopped far short of supporting Gillibrand’s idea.

It seemed Gillibrand’s proposal was picking up momentum amid a series of  high-profile incidents involving military officials and sexual misconduct  grabbed headlines, but it failed in a committee vote in June that didn’t break  along traditional party lines.

The Pentagon has kept up a fierce lobbying campaign behind the scenes, but  Gillibrand and her supporters believe the measure can fare better on the full  Senate floor with senators less tied to the military.

Gillibrand already has 32 cosponsors and the addition of Paul and Cruz  provides a powerful political message as she continues to lobby for more votes  in face-to-face meetings on the Senate floor.

“Sen. Paul believes that the vast majority of our service members are  honorable and upstanding individuals,” said Paul spokesman Moira Bagley said in  an email. “In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially  one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and  conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted  properly.”

Paul has been a critic of the Pentagon on other issues, too. The Kentucky  Republican has called for an audit of military spending and he waded into  defense issues in March with a 13-hour filibuster questioning the danger of  drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil.

Cruz on Tuesday will also go a step beyond an initial committee vote,  pointing to America’s allies to explain his position.

“Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and  Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen  marked improvement,” Cruz said in the statement. He also commended Gillibrand  for her efforts to “modernize” the forces.

Still, advocates believe the new supporters could boost the vote count.

“The senator being fully on board kind of opens up possibilities,” said a  Senate Democratic aide working on defense issues. “It doesn’t split along  partisan ideology lines. It’s about folks who want to take on the status quo….It  can shake up the equation.”

Paul isn’t the first Republican to link up with Gillibrand. Sens. Susan  Collins, Mike Johanns, Lisa Murkowski and Grassley were there at the early  stages. Sens. Ted Cruz and David Vitter both voted for her proposal during the  committee markup last month.

In prepared remarks Gillibrand is scheduled to give at Tuesday’s press  conference, the New York Democrat will highlight the “strong and growing  bipartisan coalition” to remove the command chain from prosecutions involving  military crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement.

“Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to  the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and  conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the  right idea,” Gillibrand will say, according to her remarks.

Democratic leaders have yet to schedule the defense authorization bill, or  any amendments to it, including Gillibrand’s proposal, but senior aides say the  legislation remains a possible contender for floor debate in the final two weeks  before the August recess.

Senior military brass, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin  Dempsey and the service branch heads, oppose Gillibrand’s proposal, arguing that  it would disrupt the Pentagon’s core command structure and its unique judicial  system. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and ranking member  Jim Inhofe have also defended the military against Gillibrand’s bid to remove  the chain of command.

During last month’s committee markup, Levin offered an alternative proposal  to address sexual assault in the military that stripped commanders of the  ability to overturn jury verdicts and a provision making retaliation against  sexual assault victims a crime.