Coburn blocks sex assault vote in Senate

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Wednesday prevented the Senate from voting on two amendments dealing with sexual assault in the military.

Coburn rejected Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) request to schedule the votes on the issue that senators had been debating all day, saying he wanted assurance that more amendments could be offered later in the process.

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“There is not a unanimous consent I will agree with until the Senate process is opened up,” Coburn said.

Reid said he offered Republicans a deal to have 13 amendment votes, but Coburn wanted guarantees that there would be more. Reid has been trying to complete work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the Senate adjourns Friday for a Thanksgiving recess. The two sexual assault amendments would be added to that bill, if they are approved.

"We’re just not doing any legislating here, and people can point blame to me all they want … but that doesn’t accomplish anything," Reid said after Coburn objected to the amendment vote.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said if the Senate doesn’t pass the defense bill by Friday, a conference committee might not have time to finish the legislation by the end of the year. Congress has passed an NDAA bill for 51 straight years.

“I can’t tell everybody in this body how disappointing this would be if we do not finish this bill tomorrow night or Friday,” Levin said. “There is only one week left where both the House and Senate are in session.”

The NDAA authorizes more than $625 billion in defense spending for the Pentagon. Some protections for victims of sexual assault were included during committee markup of the bill, such as providing a lawyer for victims and criminalizing retaliation against victims who report assaults. But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wanted to add an amendment to take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.

The bill also gives an across-the-board 1 percent pay raise for services members and allows the transfer of Guantánamo Bay detainees to the United States for trial or foreign countries.