Gillibrand tears into Army nominee over military sexual assault: 'You're failing us'

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTwo years after Maria, Puerto Rico awaits disaster funds Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' MORE (D-N.Y.) tore into the nominee to be the Army’s next top general over rising sexual assault rates in the military.

The Thursday confirmation hearing for Gen. James McConville to become the next Army chief of staff followed the Pentagon's release of its annual report on the issue, showing a 38 percent jump in instances of military sexual assault over the past two years.

Raising her voice, Gillibrand, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, told McConville, "I am tired of excuses."

“I am tired of statements from commanders that say, ‘zero tolerance.’ I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command: ‘We got this, ma’am. We got this,'" she said. "You don’t have it. You’re failing us. The trajectories of every measurable are now going in the wrong direction.”

Gillibrand’s heated comments came during an otherwise genial Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for McConville, who is currently the Army’s vice chief of staff.

The hearing was held as the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assault in the military showing an estimated 20,500 instances of "unwanted sexual contact" in 2018, a 38 percent increase from 2016. Following that report, the Pentagon also moved to make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the military justice system.

Gillibrand took nearly all of her six allotted minutes to run down statistics from the report, including that 5.8 percent of women in the Army were sexually assaulted last year.

“We have to do better,” she said. “And I expect you to show strong leadership on this. It is your responsibility to make sure the men and women who serve, who will sacrifice their lives for this country, are protected.”

She ended by asking McConville if he would “take this as seriously as you would as if it was your daughter in that 17- to 20-year-old service member list.”

“Yes, senator,” McConville replied.

Gillibrand has long focused on addressing military sexual assault. For years, the senator has pushed to take the decision to prosecute the cases away from military commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

But the Pentagon and other critics argue Gillibrand's proposal would undermine the military justice system.

In conjunction with the release of the Pentagon report, acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE issued a memo outlining new steps to prevent military sexual assault, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the military justice system.

“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” Shanahan wrote in the memo. “This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better.”