Durbin endorses Gillibrand's amendment

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDHS watchdog to investigate whether children are being separated from asylum seekers: report Senate Dems press Trump on legal justification for potential Syria strike US needs to respect Latin American leadership on Venezuela crisis MORE (D-Ill.) announced his support Wednesday for Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDem senators call on FCC to protect against robocalls Dems see Mueller firing as a red line on impeachment Clinton to fundraise alongside possible 2020 contenders MORE’s (D-N.Y.) sexual assault amendment to the defense authorization bill.

“I will vote in favor of her proposal,” Durbin said on the Senate floor.

The Senate is debating the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes more than $625 billion in defense spending for the Pentagon. 

Some protections for victims of sexual assault were included during committee markup of NDAA, such as providing a lawyer for victims and criminalizing retaliation against victims who report assaults. But Gillibrand and most of the other female senators have said the underlying bill doesn’t go far enough.

“Victims feel they will not get justice,” Gillibrand said during debate Wednesday. “If you don’t create a transparent, accountable system outside of the chain of command your hope of victims reporting … it’s not there, the hope is not there.”

Gillibrand’s amendment would take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. She says that's necessary to encourage people to report assault. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and most Republicans on the committee oppose Gillibrand’s amendment.

Durbin is the 53rd senator to support Gillibrand’s amendment, but she will likely need 60-vote for adoption.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have an alternative amendment that would strengthen sexual assault prevention activities within the Defense Department, including eliminating the “good soldier” defense.

Durbin said he also supports McCaskill’s amendment but said Gillibrand’s does more to change the culture of the military, which can be “intractable.” 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who announced his support for Gillibrand’s amendment on Tuesday — tried to hold votes on the two sexual assault amendments, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) objected because he wanted assurance that he’d get an amendment vote.

Lawmakers are trying to complete work on the bill by Thanksgiving so that House and Senate conferees would have time to report back to both chambers before the end of the year. Congress has passed an NDAA bill for 51 straight years.