LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyFive takeaways from Arizona's audit results The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (R-Ariz.) said she will push Pentagon officials to come up with specific plans to address sexual assault in the military in the next 60 days before the Senate begins work on an annual defense authorization bill.
McSally, who said earlier this month that she herself is a survivor of sexual assault committed by a superior officer while she served in the Air Force, said Thursday she would sit on a new task force that acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE will set up to explore approaches to ending sexual assault in the military.
Speaking to reporters outside Luke Air Force Base, where she met with commanders to hear their concerns, McSally said she wanted to see new proposals within 60 days, before the Senate takes up the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
"I'm looking backwards from the NDAA markup, right? Because when we do the individual every year, the defense bill, that's where if it's going to take an act of Congress or it's going to be legislative initiatives, we've got to get it included in the NDAA," McSally said. "So I'm looking back from that on the Senate side to see how we can identify initiatives and solutions that we can include in the NDAA."
After disclosing her own assault in a hearing earlier this month, McSally said she had spoken with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the Air Force chief of staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Shanahan. McSally sent a letter to Shanahan earlier this week asking for a special task force to address sexual assault in the military; Shanahan responded in less than a day.
McSally acknowledged having a member of the legislative branch sitting on an executive branch task force would be "nontraditional," though she said a department-wide approach was necessary to solve complex problems of victims' rights, investigational powers, the chain of command and the judicial process.
"We need to solve this together. So I want to participate in that task force to bring the thought leaders and the experts together to swiftly see what other initiatives we can come up with before we mark up the defense bill in 60 days," McSally said. "They're not waiting for me to get back to D.C. next week. The Air Force is already leading the charge."
"We don't need to be sitting around talking. We need to be coming up with very specific solutions of what's not working and what we can improve related to the system," she said.
McSally, the first woman to serve as a combat pilot, said she did not expect to find herself sharing her survival story. She said she decided just a day before the hearing to tell her story.
"That was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the right thing to do at the time so that I could help lead on this issue and people could maybe better understand where I was coming from," McSally said.
The percentage of sexual assaults reported to military officials is on the rise in recent years, according to a 2017 Pentagon report that estimated one in three sexual assaults were reported to authorities.
"The rate of reporting is going up, but we don't know what the denominator is," McSally said.
McSally said she did not hear any reports of sexual assault when she commanded the 354th Fighter Squadron, though she said she had to deal with an alleged sexual assault when she was an acting commander. Both the victim and the alleged perpetrator served under McSally, though she declined to provide additional details of the case.