Former Senate Adversaries, McCaskill & Gillibrand, Team Up
May 2, 2014

Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are at war once again. But this time, they’re fighting for the same thing.
It’s been less than two months since the Senate passed McCaskill’s bill over Gillibrand’s on improving how the military handles sexual assault. But with concern over campus sexual violence now approaching fever pitch in Washington, McCaskill and Gillibrand are ready to work on the issue — as partners.
“Sen. Gillibrand and I are doing this together,” McCaskill said in an interview, adding that she has spoken with her New York counterpart a half-dozen times about a forthcoming bill addressing campus sexual assault.
The pair shared an umbrella Tuesday as they exited a White House event where new recommendations on addressing and preventing campus sexual violence were unveiled. McCaskill tweeted a picture using the hashtag “together.”
It appears to be a new era of cooperation, at least for now: Both senators applauded the new White House recommendations. On April 4, they co-wrote a letter signed by several Senate colleagues on the issue. Both have been actively researching what policy changes may make the most sense. And the two are lining up behind some common priorities, such as mandating annual student surveys on sexual assault and changing the federal government’s options for enforcing Title IX violations, advocates say.

McCaskill Helps Block One Version of Military Sexual Assault Reform
March 7, 2014

KC Star:

The Senate on Thursday rejected legislation that would have stripped military commanders of the power to prosecute sexual assaults and other major crimes.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had the support of 55 of the chamber’s 100 members, including 10 Republicans. But it was blocked by fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri and other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who used procedural tactics to prevent an up-or-down vote on the measure.

The Senate instead moved unanimously toward approval of an alternative bill championed by McCaskill that would preserve commanders’ authority to convene courts-martial but give victims a formal say in whether their cases go before military or civilian courts. That version awaits final passage next week.

“I know this has been tough for everyone,” said McCaskill, a former prosecutor, as two hours of tense debate drew to a close Thursday. “But I stand here with years of experience of holding hands and crying with victims, knowing that what we have done is the right thing for victims and the right thing for our military.”

The hard-fought policy battle between two influential female senators came down to just a handful of votes, with Gillibrand’s bill falling five short of the necessary 60-vote threshold.

Although she lost this round to a technicality, Gillibrand demonstrated she has the support she needs to keep her vision for change alive, said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School.

“It’s outrageous that a member of the same party would basically threaten a filibuster,” Fidell said of McCaskill.

“I think Senator Gillibrand has the high moral ground, and I believe she will have the high political ground before you know it,” he said. “In practical terms, this bill will live to fight another day.”

Gillibrand and her allies argued during debate Thursday that the only way to restore trust in the military justice system was to allow independent prosecutors _ not commanders _ to decide whether a case should go to trial.

“It is like being raped by your brother and having your father decide the case,” Gillibrand said. “That is the perception of the victims.”


Post Cites Military Assault Debate as Example of Rising Role of Women in Senate, Cites McCaskill & Gillibrand
November 19, 2013

Washington Post (via

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are leading opposing sides of a months-long disagreement over how the Defense Department should handle the reported rise of sexual assault in the ranks.
An emotionally-charged debate is expected to play out on the Senate floor in the coming days as the Senate begins considering the annual defense authorization bill that sets military policy and pay levels. The process is expected to begin this week and likely will conclude after the Thanksgiving recess.
Senators are expected to consider dozens of amendments to the bill, including proposals prompted by recent reports about the National Security Agency, others about terrorism suspects detained at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and whether to impose new sanctions on Iran — a move favored by many senators but opposed by the Obama administration as it continues delicate negotiations with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program.
Those are serious national security concerns, but the rising number of sexual assaults — the Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year — has earned special attention, especially from women senators.
McCaskill and Gillibrand are two of the record 20 women now serving in the Senate and two of seven women now serving on the Armed Services Committee — the highest tally ever.
They worked over the summer with colleagues of both genders and parties to ensure that the defense bill would include several significant changes to how the Pentagon handles sex assault crimes. Already the bill ends the statute of limitations on cases of assault or rape; strips military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions in assault or rape cases; requires that civilians review decisions by commanders to not prosecute certain cases; makes it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault; and requires dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault.
But McCaskill and Gillibrand want to do more to end the scourge of rape and assaults — and do not agree on what to do.
McCaskill and Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) are sponsoring an amendment that would change military rules of evidence to drop the “good soldier” defense unless a defendant’s military character is directly relevant to the crime they’re accused of committing. Their plan also would require the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to review any case in which military prosecutors recommend proceeding and a military commander disagrees. The amendment is likely to pass with bipartisan support.
Gillibrand has a proposal that goes much farther: She wants to completely strip a military commander’s involvement in cases of assault or rape and turn such cases over to specialized military prosecutors. The change could add millions of dollars to the defense budget and radically alter a commander’s responsibilities for good order and morale. Her plan is backed by national veterans groups, victims’ advocates, 17 of the 20 women senators and an impressive bipartisan coalition including Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).