Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., backed off Sunday on modifying her proposed overhaul of the military justice system to take all serious crimes including sexual assault out of the chain of command.
“We’re going to stick to the original plan because it’s a better bill, at the end of the day,” that stands a better chance of getting the 60 votes in the Senate needed for approval, Gillibrand said on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Last week, Gillibrand floated a proposal that would take only sexual assault cases out of the chain of command, and not all serious crimes such as murder or theft.
“We are considering making this one change to get to 60 votes in response to suggestions from undecided senators,” Gillibrand told reporters last Wednesday.
The proposed modification of her bill immediately drew fire from advocacy groups that had backed her initial bill that would strip commanders of their authority to refer cases to courts martial and overturn verdicts, and give that authority to independent prosecutors from the Judge Advocates’ General corps.
Gillibrand’s bill, now offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, was expected to come up for debate this week in the Senate. Gillibrand currently claims to have commitments from 46 of the 60 senators needed to cut off debate and get a vote on the amendment.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have opposed Gillibrand’s amendment and are backing proposals to keep serious crimes within the chain of command while holding commanders more accountable.
In defending her initial proposal, Gillibrand said Sunday that ”having the bright line of elevating all serious crimes out of the chain of command, makes sure both victims’ rights are protected and defendants’ rights for civil liberties reasons.”