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Posted at 6:02 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2013
Sen. John McCain says the debate over handling military sexual assault is likely to play out on the Senate floor but that he doesn’t to be between two female senators on the issue.
“I hope that everybody takes this in the right way: I think it’s helpful that we have like 20 women senators in the United States Senate, and I hope that doesn’t mean that I’m saying that I’m insensitive, but it’s helpful for the Senate to have that kind of input that we are getting from many of our women senator colleagues,” McCain said Tuesday. “By the way, two leading individuals — Sen. McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Gillibrand are on opposite sides on this issue, and I— I try not to get in the middle of that one.”
The Arizona Republican was referring to the differing views of Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who were among the leaders of separate factions during the Armed Services Committee’s markup of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill. The two senators have been vocal advocates for their respective sides.
Gillibrand and her supporters favor removing sexual-assault cases from the military’s traditional chain-of-command structure, while McCaskill sides with Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in supporting a continued role for the commanding officers in handling the cases.
Still, both camps want to make substantial changes to the way the uniformed services handle the cases, including ending the practice of allowing commanders to set aside convictions.
The Armed Services panel backed the Levin-McCaskill position, which is favored by Pentagon leaders, 17-9. McCain, a senior Republican on the panel and former ranking member, sided with Levin when the vote was called. A more vocal endorsement on one side or the other might carry significant weight with his Senate colleagues.
McCain’s comments came at a town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon in Tucson, which the Tucson Sentinel has posted online in full.
“This cannot stand, and action has to be taken to prevent further … unspeakable actions such as this. The question is, is how do you address it. The big debate right now is what is the role of the commanding officer, and … whether the commanding officer should be deprived of that responsibility,” McCain said. “We’ve been wrestling with it for a long time in the Armed Services Committee. We will take up the defense bill, and you will see more debate and discussion and voting on that bill.”
McCain’s comments suggest that an open floor debate looms, in which each side will make arguments to their colleagues and in the media. The defense authorization has yet to reach the Senate floor, and it seems unlikely there will be enough session days in the month of September for a full debate before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.