Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill have been warring over amendments to change how the military deals with sexual assault, but now neither measure will get a vote. Gillibrand wants to take sexual assault cases out of the military chain of command, while McCaskill wants reform that leaves commanders in charge. The Hill reports that the Senate won't vote on either amendment.
The Senate just ran out of time on this one. Congress has to pass a defense bill before the House leaves for vacation on December 13. Voting on major amendments would result in more than one volley between the Senate and the House, so Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid probably won't allow it.
McCaskill may still see her reforms enacted, however. The defense bill contains a couple of provisions that match her goals — namely "stripping commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdict" and "requiring discharge for those convicted of sexual assault."
But Gillibrand doesn't think McCaskill's reforms go far enough. Gillibrand insists that it's crucial to take major crimes like sexual assault out of the chain of command because because victims "didn't trust the chain of command. ... they feared or had witnessed retaliation." A November ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 59 percent of Americans agree with Gillibrand.
As of November, Gillibrand had secured 53 votes for her amendment in the Senate. Women in the Senate were particularly supportive — 16 of 20 female senators pledged to vote for it. McCaskill's amendment has the support of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin. Some women accused McCaskill of being anti-victim for opposing Gillibrand's amendment — a charge McCaskill deemed "unfair."
Many think Gillibrand will still find a way to get a vote on her amendment in 2014. Rep. Jackie Speier said over the weekend, "I think she's worked extremely hard, and we're going to get it, one way or the other." Technically, Gillibrand and McCaskill could try to bring their measures up for a vote separate from the defense bill, but it seems unlikely they'd have time to do so this week.
For her part, Gillibrand says she will continue to push this issue for as long as she's in the Senate. She's racked up a few glowing profiles amid her campaign for victims, but she insists she's not worried about her own political standing. “This really isn’t about winning or losing. This is entirely about justice for victims of sexual assault and rape," she told The Washington Post in November.