Military Sexual-Assault Bills Don’t Break on Party, Gender Lines

Two competing proposals on combating sexual assault in the military could cause further headaches for Democratic leaders, as lawmakers debate how best to manage what has become an epidemic culture of misconduct in the armed services.

The fight, which does not break cleanly on party or gender lines, could get more complicated as Congress inches closer to full debate of this year’s defense authorization bill.

On Thursday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., held a news conference with Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, to advocate for the proposal approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Flanked by retired female servicemembers, the senators argued that removing the chain of command from prosecuting misconduct could lead to fewer consequences for assailants in cases prosecutors find too difficult to try.

On the other side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has pushed legislation that would remove the command structure from prosecutions completely, and her plan has picked up significant support from members of both parties.

“Sen. Gillibrand would be the first to tell you that our bill is not the status quo. It is aggressive and [makes] meaningful changes,” McCaskill said Thursday. “I’ve had to discipline prosecutors who were turning down cases because they were worried about their win-loss record. Prosecutors like to win, and a lot of these cases they think are ‘losers.’ We see instances where time after time prosecutors say ‘no’ and commanders say ‘yes.’

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