Gillibrand, McCaskill team up to tackle college sexual assault

After a lengthy and heated dispute over military sexual assault policy, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are now joining forces to fight sexual assault on college campuses.

The two senators took the lead on a letter sent to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Friday, urging them to put aside additional money to investigate and enforce sexual assault laws at colleges.

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“Given the extent of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, there is a clear need for more trained staff to enforce the laws currently on the books,” the senators wrote in the letter, which was signed by 10 other senators.

The joint effort on college sexual assault shows Gillibrand and McCaskill are looking to turn the corner after a bitter fight over the military’s chain of command and sexual assault that lasted nearly a year.

The two Democrats tried to downplay their dispute on Gillibrand’s push to take away from commanders the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other criminal cases. Both have insisted it was just one specific policy disagreement on the issue.

But it was clear the fight had taken a personal toll by the time of the vote in February.

McCaskill said the fight sparked a narrative "that's pretty emotionally powerful — that somehow to be against Gillibrand is to be against victims. And frankly, at times it's personally painful for me."

The Senate blocked Gillibrand’s proposal in a 55-45 vote, which failed to overcome a filibuster.

The complex military legal issues surrounding their dispute do not exist with college assaults, making the pair natural allies on the issue.

While they join together to focus on collegiate sexual assault, they are likely to be at odds once again, as Gillibrand has said she intends to push her proposal on chain of command once again on this year’s Defense authorization bill.