Durbin endorses Gillibrand's amendment

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDNC event calendar Opioid package clears key Senate hurdle Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability MORE (D-Ill.) announced his support Wednesday for Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDNC event calendar Texas rep uses Snapchat to prompt border control discussions GOP probes EPA response to NY state water contamination 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. 

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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.