Gillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall

Gillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees The FBI comes up empty-handed in its search for a Jan. 6 plot MORE (D-N.Y.) said Thursday she expects her bill to overhaul the military justice system will get a stand-alone vote on the Senate floor in the fall.

Gillibrand in recent months has taken to the Senate floor more than a dozen times to try to set up a quick vote on her bill, which would remove the decision to prosecute major crimes including sexual assault from the chain of command.

But she has been blocked each time by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake MORE (D-R.I.) or committee ranking member Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (R-Okla.).

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Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) could still set up a vote over their objections, but without the consent of every senator to speed up consideration, the bill could eat up days, if not weeks, of floor time.

In a Thursday conference call with reporters hosted by the Defense Writers Group, Gillibrand said Schumer has said he will give her bill a vote, but that first the Senate has to finish work on the “more urgent” infrastructure and spending packages currently being debated.

“He supports the measure, has voted for it in the past, and he has told me that he will give me a vote,” Gillibrand said of Schumer.

“The reason why we haven't had a vote yet is because we have two more urgent things that we have to do, and it consumes a lot of time without consent,” she continued.

“Because Jack Reed has objected to a consent agreement to just have two hours of debate equally divided and do it up and down in one day, it would take, if you literally used every bit of time, it could take two weeks. And right now, we are trying to deal with COVID relief, infrastructure and the Biden families plan. So we have a lot of work that has more urgency, and so we will probably have our vote on this in the fall.”

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Momentum has been building for major reform in the military justice system in an effort to tackle sexual assault after years of resistance from top brass.

Pentagon leaders have endorsed a recommendation from an independent commission to take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and related crimes away from commanders and give it to independent special victims prosecutors.

But Gillibrand’s bill would go further, and take almost all major crimes — including sexual assault, but also other felony-level crimes such as murder — out of the chain of command.

Gillibrand’s bill has more than 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, but is opposed by military leaders, as well as Reed, who supports the commission’s narrower recommendation, and Inhofe, who continues to oppose taking any crime out of the chain of command.

President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE, for his part, put out a statement when the commission finished its work endorsing its recommendation. But during the 2020 presidential campaign, he indicated he also supported taking other major crimes out of the chain of command.

On Thursday, Gillibrand said she has spoken with Biden recently about her bill and believes he supports it.

“I'm not going to say what he said because that would be inappropriate of me to relay that conversation, but it was essentially a congratulatory call when I got 66 co-sponsors, and there was an indication that he would love to sign that into law,” she said. “So I believe that the president 110 percent supports what we're doing.”

While she awaits a floor vote on her bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled next week to consider its annual defense policy bill. Gillibrand plans to offer her bill as an amendment during the committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act and believes she has the votes to get it included. A majority of committee members are co-sponsors.

But even if her amendment is approved by the committee, it would still have to survive a long process that includes a negotiation with the House known as a conference committee.

“I have a concern that even if we win in committee and get the things we want in this bill that it will be taken out in conference,” Gillibrand said.

“And so I think it is necessary to have a floor vote no matter what because I have lived through the challenge of passing something in the Senate Armed Services Committee, passing the same exact legislation in the House Armed Services Committee and having it still be taken out in conference because the [Defense Department] does not approve of it.”