Gillibrand, McCaskill Square Off Over Military Assault Prosecutions

The Senate has rejected a measure that would have allowed military prosecutors — rather than commanders — decide which sexual assault cases to pursue. The 2 female senators were on opposite sides.

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The Senate has rejected a proposal that would have allowed military prosecutors, rather than commanders, to decide which sexual assault cases to pursue. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, the legislation pitted two women of the Senate, both Democrats, both lawyers, against each other - Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who pushed the bill, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who lead the charge against her.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Deep emotions have fueled this month-long battle, but the two women at the center of it constantly went out of their way not to sound like that.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I want to take just a couple of minutes at the close of this very difficult debate to express my deep respect for the senator from New York, Sen. Gillibrand.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: You know, I respect and admire Sen. McCaskill. She's been an advocate, a leading advocate for victim's rights her whole life.

CHANG: But neither gave any ground. Gillibrand unsuccessfully pushed a proposal that would have removed military commanders from decisions about which sexual assault cases to prosecute. Her argument was, victims don't trust their commanders enough to report crimes. McCaskill, a former prosecutor, said the plan wouldn't work. Prosecutors aren't necessarily more reliable as advocates for victims, and she said weakening commanders reduces their ability to change the culture.

Yesterday, McCaskill prevailed, but Gillibrand says the fight isn't over.

GILLIBRAND: Many people said to me, Kirsten, I'm going to watch this. If it doesn't get better within the next six months, I'm with you next time.

CHANG: Next time, Gillibrand will need five of her colleagues to switch sides. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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