Military Sexual-Assault Bills Touch Raw Political Nerve for Democrats

Democrats seem to agree on the need to address the rising number of sexual assaults in the military, but the intraparty battle over the issue has gotten deeply personal and could end up politically damaging to those who have been tagged as “anti-victim.”

Democratic leaders are dreading having what is likely to be an emotionally charged fight play out on the Senate floor when the chamber takes up the Defense authorization bill in the next few weeks.

“I would be less than candid if I didn’t say this has been — for somebody who has fought and has a long history of victim advocacy, from my days as a state legislator to my days as a prosecutor to establishing laws and programs and fighting for victims all my life — that it’s been very difficult to be characterized as anti-victim,” Sen. Claire McCaskill told CQ Roll Call.

The Missouri Democrat has been one of the lead supporters of keeping sexual-assault cases within the military’s chain of command while making other key changes aimed at addressing the issue. On the other side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has been aggressively pushing to take commanders out of the mix when it comes to sexual-assault allegations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been coy about his plans to proceed on competing proposals to curb what has become a crisis in the armed forces. While most of his caucus members support Gillibrand’s framework, at least a dozen Democrats likely will vote for the Senate Armed Services Committee markup language being championed by McCaskill.

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