Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic Senator from New York, as spent much of the past year pushing a bill that would change the way the U.S. military investigates sexual assault cases within its ranks. But she saw her efforts go down in flames on the Senate floor Thursday when a Republican-led filibuster stopped the bill from ever coming to a vote.
Under the current military system, the decision whether to prosecute rapes and other sex crimes is made by military brass in the established chain of command. Kirsten Gillibrand said that the current system often discouraged victims from reporting their rapes, fearing repercussions or bias from mostly male superior officers.
Under Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, that responsibility would instead be assigned to independent prosecutors trained in handling military cases.
Though the Kirsten Gillibrand bill was stopped primarily by Republican senators, as it came five votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster under Senate rules, Gillibrand created some unexpected coalitions with her effort, with some of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans taking her side — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — but 10 members of her own party voted to kill the military sex assault bill.
Other conservative Republicans who surprisingly voted in favor of breaking the filibuster on the Kirsten Gillibrand bill included Ted Cruz of Texas and Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul, who said that the current system was not working so to continue it would be “the definition of insanity” and that “it’s time to try something new.”
Cruz, who is widely believed to have presidential ambitions in 2016, said that presidential politics did not enter into his decision to side with Kirsten Gillibrand on the military sexual assault bill.
“This issue shouldn’t be political,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about standing with the men and women in the military. It’s about standing against sexual assault.”
The most vocal opposition to the bill came from not only a Democrat, but a woman, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who said that she backed many military reforms, but that this one would actually accomplish the opposite of its intention.
“In addition to it not increasing reporting, in addition to it not protecting from retaliation, in addition to removing commanders from their accountability, we also have some real practical implications,” McCaskill said. “When the sun sets today, this body will have passed 35 major reforms in less than a year making the military the most victim-friendly organization in the world.”
But when the 47-year-old, second-term Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took the floor after the bill failed despite getting 55 votes in favor, she handed McCaskill a sharp rebuke.
“This is not an opportunity to congratulate ourselves on the reforms we passed,” said Gillibrand. “Under the best scenario, two out of 10 victims report.”
Kirsten Gillibrand was also critical of President Barack Obama, who has taken a wait-and-see approach, saying that he would rather measure the military’s progress on sexual assault cases at the end of this year rather than push for reforms now.