Defense Department Opposed Franken's Anti-Rape Amendment
When thirty Republicans lined up against an amendment that would have required defense contractors to allow their employees access to U.S. courts in cases of rape or sexual assault, Jon Stewart ripped them to pieces.
"I understand we're a divided country, some disagreements on health care. How is ANYONE against this?" he wondered.
It's a question, it turns out, best addressed to the White House.
The vote against the amendment has sparked outrage at the all-male, all-white bloc of thirty Republican senators. HuffPost readers have been particularly infuriated by the GOP opposition and have regularly posted the names of the offending thirty in the comment section of even unrelated stories. A mock website - www.republicansforrape.org -- has sprung up.
The men had an ally in opposition that has so far gone unreported: the Department of Defense.
"The DoD opposes the proposed amendment," reads a message sent from the administration to the Senate on October 6, the day the amendment passed by a 68-30 vote.
"The Department of Defense, the prime contractor, and higher tier subcontractors may not be in a position to know about such things. Enforcement would be problematic, especially in cases where privity of contract does not exist between parties within the supply chain that supports a contract," reads the DoD note. "It may be more effective to seek a statutory prohibition of all such arrangements in any business transaction entered into within the jurisdiction of the United States, if these arrangements are deemed to pose an unacceptable method of recourse."
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), is intended to address the type of Kafka-esque treatment Jamie Leigh Jones received from the U.S. justice system after she was gang-raped by fellow KBR workers. The defense contractor argued that her employment contract required that her claim be heard in private arbitration rather than in open court.
A White House spokesman said that the DoD opposition is overstated in the message sent to Congress. "We support the intent of the amendment, and we're working with the conferees to make sure that it is enforceable," said spokesman Tommy Vietor when asked about the DoD statement.
HuffPost also asked the thirty Republicans why they opposed the amendment. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was the only one to provide a statement when this story was first posted. We'll update it with further statements when they come in.
"This vote has been grossly misunderstood, oversimplified, and misreported. Senator Corker, the father of two daughters, believes what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones is abhorrent and that the culprits should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; further, he agrees that rape, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress should not be arbitrated, but the Franken amendment went far beyond the ill it was trying to remedy to encompass most possible employment claims," said Laura Lefler Herzog, communications director for Corker.
Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) both provided statement to the Sun News in Macon.
"This would be a major, fundamental change in U.S. labor law and I believe it would be very detrimental to employees to eliminate arbitration as an option," Isakson said. The statement inaccurately portrays Franken's amendment: Employees would still be able to elect to use arbitration; they simply wouldn't be forced into it.
Chambliss added, also inaccurately: "If that happens, these employees' only recourse will be to litigate suits in court, which is a very lengthy, expensive and time-consuming process."
Mike Stark, a blogger with The Crooked Dope, filmed hallway interviews with Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and asked them about their no votes. Cochran told Stark that rape victims deserve their day in court, but it's not the government's place to dictate the terms of employment contracts. Thune said that he might have supported the amendment if it had been narrowed to cover rape rather than extended to cover other sexual-related abuses.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said that he opposed the amendment because it "would impose the will of Congress on private individuals and companies in a retroactive fashion, invalidating employment contracts without due process of law." However, because the amendment applies to the fiscal year 2010 defense bill, it would not apply retroactively.
Sessions added one more reason for opposing it. "I think we should listen to the Department of Defense and vote no on this amendment," he said.
Watch Franken pitch his amendment:
UPDATE: North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr's spokesman David Ward sends in this statement: "Senator Burr believes violence against women is despicable and intolerable, and those who have committed or abetted such heinous crimes should be subjected to the full weight of the law. Unfortunately, the Franken amendment would not do anything to protect women from violence or to punish criminals. If it had, Senator Burr would certainly have voted for the amendment. Instead, rather than protect women from rape, the Franken amendment prohibits contractors who have employment arbitration agreements with their employees from being paid for the work they have done for the military. In fact, the Obama Defense Department opposed the amendment. As current federal law states and the courts have already upheld in the Jones case, arbitration agreements are non-binding when it comes to criminal acts, like rape. Unfortunately, the Franken amendment was a cynical attempt by the trial lawyers to eliminate arbitration agreements, which limit their fees, behind the guise of protecting women."
Jeff Muskus and Julian Hattem contributed to this report