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McCaskill stands in way of Military Justice Improvement Act

Women Democratic Senators
Women Democratic Senators
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have opposing bills up for vote to deal with unsatisfactory resolution of sexual assault cases in the military. The problem thus far is that soldiers are told they have to use the chain-of-command when reporting incidents, but that very same chain-of-command instinctively tries to keep any problems quiet and settled in-house. So the way to fix that is to take the chain-of-command out of the picture.

Sen. Gillibrand's bill, S. 967: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, does just that. It gives military prosecutors the authority over which sexual assault cases go to trial, taking that decision away from the chain-of-command. This prevents favoritism from being a factor, which can be a problem in the military environment.

McCaskill has threatened to filibuster the MJIA in favor of her own bill, S. 1032: Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013, which only makes minor adjustments to how far up the chain-of-command the complaint must go, but ultimately leaves the same potential for favoritism in place. McCaskill puzzlingly seems to trust the military to police themselves despite all evidence to the contrary, and is fighting against a bill that has, not only more support, but bipartisan support, something that has been unheard of in recent years.

"Using procedural tricks to block a bill that already has bipartisan, majority support in the Senate is an act of cowardice and breaks faith with the brave veterans who have suffered from a status quo in the military that is all too permissive of sexual assault," said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Publicly, Gillibrand's bill has 53 supporters, but she claims to have several more who have privately pledged to her that she has their vote when it comes to the floor.

“I think we’ll get to 60,” Gillibrand said to POLITICO. “I think we’ll overcome a filibuster. And we may get to 60 for the underlying vote as well.”

Both bills are expected to be presented for a vote in the next week.