Reid backs Gillibrand’s sex assault measure

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he will support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) bill to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. [WATCH VIDEO]

Reid told reporters he’s decided to support Gillibrand’s measure to take the decision to prosecute major criminal cases away from commanders.

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Reid’s support provides a boost to Gillibrand’s side as she seeks 60 votes for her measure, which is expected to get a vote as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill this week.

Gillibrand’s proposal has been divisive, splitting both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate in unconventional ways.

The bill presented a dilemma for Reid, forcing him to choose between supporting Gillibrand and nearly three-quarters of his caucus, or backing Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“I’m going to support Gillibrand, and Sen. Levin knows that,” Reid said.

The majority leader said that he hopes to get a vote on Gillibrand’s amendment to the bill on Wednesday, and he wants votes on two Guantanamo amendments later Tuesday.

Gillibrand now has 50 senators who support her legislation. She’s expected to need 60 votes for it to pass as an amendment to the Defense bill.

While Reid came off the fence on Tuesday, the White House has still not taken a position on Gillibrand’s bill.

"Beyond what we put out on the underlying defense authorization bill, I can only tell you that we're working with members of Congress, who are very concerned about this issue, as the president is," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday when asked whether the White House backed Gillibrand's measure.

On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he is still studying the issue.

Most Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee are opposed to Gillibrand’s measure, but it does have the support of McConnell’s Kentucky colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R).

Justin Sink contributed.