White House dodges questions on Gillibrand military sex assault bill

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday sidestepped questions about whether President Obama supports a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

"I think that what the president wants and what the president has made clear is that sexual assault is unacceptable," said Carney.

ADVERTISEMENT
“It is particularly objectionable when it occurs within our United States military and that those — as he said — those who wear the uniform of the United States dishonor it if they engage in sexual assault," he added.

Gillibrand has championed a measure that would remove military commanders from the decision to prosecute allegations of sexual assaults within their units.

The Armed Services Committee, however, voted to strip the language from the defense authorization bill it approved on Wednesday.

Military leaders including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, as well as Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have said such a move could undermine commanders' authority.

Obama and lawmakers have vowed to confront the problem of military sexual assaults after a Pentagon report earlier this year estimated 26,000 such incidents in the armed services in 2012, a dramatic jump from prior years.

Pressed Thursday for the president’s view of how the military should best address the rise in assaults, Carney said he would get back to reporters.

The White House spokesman stressed that Obama had "zero tolerance" for sexual assaults in the military.

"He's insisted to the leadership of the Pentagon and the Defense Department that we need to take direct action to deal with it," Carney said.

Gillibrand said Thursday that she would move to reinstate her measure when the Senate bill hits the floor.

"This is a very significant reform, one most of my colleagues aren't ready to make yet," Gillibrand told CBS News.

"And until you see justice being done, until you see accountability in the system, you will not be able to change the culture. This is a cultural problem. It's from top to bottom. And that's why you need to see a major shift," she said.