(WASHINGTON) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he supports New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s amendment to remove sexual assaults in the military from the chain of command.
It is a key development, with Reid saying for the first time he is siding with Gillibrand — over the wishes of his chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, and Claire McCaskill, who oppose Gillibrand’s plan.
With Reid’s support, Gillibrand now has at least 50 votes, but remains short of the 60-vote threshold.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said: “The president does feel very strongly, as you know, having heard him discuss this. And we have been working with members of Congress on this issue… It is something, as I said, the president is very concerned about. And that’s why he has directed [Defense] Secretary Hagel and the rest of his team to address this issue aggressively to make sure the victims are being helped and that perpetrators are being held accountable.”
“On the underlying bill I don’t have any more insight on potential amendments at this time. What I can tell you is that we consider this to be a very important issue,” Carney added.
Without naming names Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., expressed frustration that the debate over Gillibrand’s bill has drowned out the historic reforms to military sexual assault prosecutions that already exist in the National Defense Authorization Act.
“I would be less than candid if I didn’t say it has been frustrating to have one policy difference dominate the discussion of this issue over the previous few weeks without anyone even realizing the historic reforms that are contained in this bill,” McCaskill said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
A group of ten bipartisan women took to the Senate floor Tuesday to laud the historic reforms already included in the defense authorization bill. The reforms approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year include stripping commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, providing independent counsels to each victim that reports a sexual assault, and requiring a dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone that is convicted of sexual assault in the military.
The bill also criminalizes retaliation against victims who have reported a sexual assault, creates a civilian review of cases that are not prosecuted, and eliminates the statute of limitations in these cases.
The National Defense Authorization Act will be voted on in its entirety in the coming weeks, likely after Thanksgiving recess.
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