Lawmakers see own ideas in Pentagon’s new sex assault measures

Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTop Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Faith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan MORE (D-Wash.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat  Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (R-N.H.) released a statement praising Hagel for expanding a Special Victims Counsel across the services, something the senators’ legislation would do.

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Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) said he was pleased that Hagel had included uniform definitions of inappropriate relationships with trainers and recruiters, a measure he had proposed.

Of course, the process worked in the other direction earlier in the year, when Congress included a plan that Hagel had put forward to remove commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts.

In that instance, Congress must pass a law to make the change. With Hagel’s directives Thursday, the Pentagon can immediately begin implementing the new steps rather than waiting for Congress to pass the Defense authorization bill, which won’t happen until at least the fall.

“While many of these reforms reflect legislation the House has already overwhelmingly passed, I support Secretary Hagel for implementing policy changes he is already empowered to make,” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Thursday.

Hagel’s new initiatives are coming as the Pentagon is facing pressure from lawmakers over a proposal from Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Hochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees MORE (D-N.Y.) to remove the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases and other major crimes from the chain of command. She argues the major structural change to the military’s judicial code is needed because victims have lost trust in commanders to prosecute their cases and not retaliate against them.

Top military brass unanimously oppose Gillibrand’s idea, as do senators such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (D-Mo.). They argue that commanders have to remain in the loop to be held accountable for chancing the military culture when it comes to sexual assault.

Gillibrand, who is seeking to win a majority of senators to support her legislation when she offers it as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, said Thursday that the Pentagon’s new measures were steps forward, but “not the leap forward required to solve the problem.”

“As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting,” Gillibrand said.

McCaskill, who has led the opposition to Gillibrand’s proposal, said that the Pentagon’s new measures were essentially a symbolic statement that military leaders are committed to addressing military sexual assault.

“I think it’s wise for our military leaders to get on this train rather than get run over by it,” McCaskill said in a statement. “Today’s announcement has little bearing on the fact that Congress will soon mandate a host of historic reforms — but it’s evidence that the Defense Department is now treating this problem with the seriousness that we expect, and that survivors deserve.”