POLITICS
11/12/2013 02:25 pm ET

Kirsten Gillibrand Predicts Military Sexual Assault Bill Will Pass Senate

WASHINGTON -- While some news reports have cast doubt on the ability of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to get the 60 Senate votes needed to pass her proposal to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command, she says she is confident the measure will go through.

"Oh no, we will have the votes," Gillibrand told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "We are going to get to 60 votes. And we are very close already -- we just need a few more votes, and I think we'll get them over the next week."

Gillibrand's bill would allow victims of sexual assault within the military to report their cases to a special independent prosecutor instead of their own commanders. She believes, based on her extensive conversations with assault survivors, that the change would encourage more victims to report this crime and result in more cases being successfully prosecuted. The Pentagon strongly opposes the idea of removing these cases from the chain of command and argues that it would undermine "good order and discipline" in the military.

There are currently 47 senators on record supporting Gillibrand's bill and about 30 who have not publicly decided either way. She has the full-throated support of some unexpected Republicans, including tea party Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Some other key players, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have not declared their intentions.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened to filibuster Gillibrand's bill. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have also vocally opposed it.

"I would maybe more seriously consider Kirsten's alternative if there weren't so many instances where prosecutors have declined to prosecute these cases," McCaskill told HuffPost in July. "We can find plenty of cases where lawyers said, 'This is a slam-dunk loser, I don't want to risk my conviction rate,' and the commander said, 'Oh, yes, we are.' I've worked with hundreds of prosecutors, and it's embarrassing to admit how many of them get distracted by whether or not they can win the case."

Gillibrand said the number of times that a commander has pushed a military sexual assault case forward when the prosecutor hesitated is negligible compared to the number of assaults that are never reported or prosecuted at all, because either the victim is afraid to come forward to her commander or the commander retaliates against her for having done so.

If the senator is able to persuade just half of her 30 undecided colleagues to support the bill, she will have more than the 60 votes she needs to pass it. Gillibrand said that she suspects Reid will end up being a "champion" of the legislation and that she'll likely be able to sway 12 more.

"I've pretty much spent time with almost every one of my colleagues [on this issue]," she said. "We have several members who are leaning yes, who I think will decide to be with us at the end of the day when the vote is taken."

The House version of Gillibrand's measure, which would be part of the annual defense authorization bill, was reintroduced in April and remains in subcommittee.

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