Senate Debating Military Sexual Assault Bill

There’s a pretty impressive debate going on over Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) on the Senate Floor right now. Here’s the link to the video feed (why C-SPAN doesn’t provide the video embed code is beyond me, but…). For those just catching up, the MJIA would remove from commanding officers the authority to prosecute a sexual assault case and place that authority in the hands of a special prosecutor. The Service Women’s Action Network has more on the reasons for this change. The essential point is that US military culture makes it impossible for commanders to arbit such cases objectively. My experience supports this assertion.

Senator Gillibrand is in somewhat of an epic battle with Senator Claire McCaskill for votes on competing bills. Senator McCaskill opposes the decision to remove prosecutorial discretion from commanding officers. About an hour ago, the two senators went back and forth over the particulars of the changes to the legal process included in the MJIA. Supporters of Senator Gillibrand argue that Senator McCaskill is repeating long-debunked DOD talking points on the MJIA. Senator Gillibrand noted that several of Senator McCaskill’s concerns were addressed in previous revisions of the MJIA.

Still, opposers of the MJIA are really stepping up their argumentative game today. Senator Jack Reed is laying out everything he’s got against MJIA as I write this. They really want to see this bill go down. There may be an element of desperation here because senators have been gradually signing on to the MJIA in the past few days. Even today in the midst of the floor debate, Senator Gillibrand announced on Twitter that Chris Murphy, a liberal freshman Democrat from Connecticut and one of the last holdouts to announce a position, finally took a side in support of the MJIA. Senator Murphy’s support tilts the Senate to majority support of the bill, so it’s a pretty gripping Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment right now.

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