Military Sexual Assault Bill Fails in Senate

The bill, which would remove prosecution of sexual assault cases from the chain of command, fell five votes short.
3:00 | 03/06/14

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Transcript for Military Sexual Assault Bill Fails in Senate
This is a special room. I'm Michelle Franzen a new -- this ABC news digital special report no civilian oversight of military sexual assault cases. Two rival bills voted on in the senate just moments ago and the one with the backing of the Pentagon passed. That bill sponsored by Missouri senator Claire McCaskill she's speaking live right now let's take a -- In fact was -- hundred to nothing. So we have now got a laundry list of things that are going to protect victims. That are gonna bring perpetrators to justice that -- hold commanders accountable. I -- grateful. To my partner for most of this senator Gillibrand who. She and I worked together on. All of these items we had one. Honestly held policy difference. And that was voted on today. -- felt very strongly based on the evidence and after spending a lot of time with prosecutors and victims. Military prosecutors. Victim advocates. -- The proposal that she had was going to result in fewer prosecutions. It was -- not protect victims from retaliation. It was going to result in. And not a measurable increase in reporting since we know there's been no increase in reporting in countries that have adopted. This system. And was going to do something very dangerous for victims and that is let the commanders off the hook. And I think the commanders. If if you don't have the commanders. As part of the solution they are. Part of the problem. And I think we can hold him accountable we can ferret out the bad ones we now know that we have multiple reviews and oversight in this area. But at the end of the day. The good commanders. Can make all the difference in the world. As to whether or not you change a culture in the military and we've seen -- -- number of issues through our history -- -- Our friction over integration of the military or whether it was friction over implementing Don't Ask Don't Tell. And then reversing Don't Ask Don't Tell and making sure that commanders. Who were responsible. Four fixing the problem and I think that's what we've -- I have immense gratitude. To my colleague senator Kay yacht and senator Fisher and senator Gramm and McCain and other senator Levin senator Reid. This was really. A very strong effort it was heart because I don't think I'm speaking. In any way that everyone in the room -- understand. This was hard politically. This was spent his did indeed this is really sounded simple. And the argument was -- its victims first commander whose side -- you want. And is thought that simple. And if you take the time to really get into the complexities of of the military justice system and how these cases are handled. I'm confident. That the choice sent -- today is the right one for victims of sexual assault and military and. Now -- -- this area. I -- I want to thank senator McCaskill for her leadership on this issue. And what -- appreciated from the beginning. I was a prosecutor myself before I came United States senate. And clear. Was a prosecutor. And in fact she prosecuted many of these cases. And worked personally with victims and that's -- perspective. That she and I have shared -- it. She really has so much experience in this year that she's brought to this very very important that debate. To make sure. That we. Support victims of sexual assault in the military and we've made some historic reforms. Both -- the defense authorization. Not only. Insuring that commanders can no longer overturn. A verdict retaliation a crime under the UC MJ. But also that each victim now have his or her own counsel through this special victims counseled that. Legislation that was included in the defense authorization. The senator McCaskill worked on senator Fisher others senator Graham. And and -- -- -- Patty Murray so I'm very glad that that is included. I want to thank the leadership not only of senator McCaskill the senator Fisher. For her leadership on this issue and we all share the same goal and senator Graham. Senator Levin McCain read others all working together this is -- bipartisan issue and on Monday we'll have the final vote. On the maccast the -- Fisher proposal which will further hold commanders accountable. I think senator McCaskill had a right there were so much we've agreed on. To make these historic reforms to ensure that victims are supported. Within the military justice system that they do get justice. And that their cases are properly prosecuted. And then afterwards that they get the treatment and respect that they deserve for having suffered so much. This disagreement. In terms of the Gillibrand proposal is an important one. I've come at -- from the beginning thinking that we've had to hold the commanders more accountable not last and that is why. I oppose that proposal that is why I have supported. The proposal led by senator McCaskill. And senator Fisher which will actually hold that commanders even more accountable it'll be part of their review process how they handle these kinds of cases. And that will do so much to advance improving the culture within the military. So that. You understand if your commander. And you don't handle one of these cases properly a victim is not. Treated with dignity and respect that their cases are mishandled. Then you'll be fired. And that's why more accountability. I believe was the way to go not less. The one thing I will -- with business and you see behind you. All members of the armed services committee. And this year we have made these important historic reforms but -- -- not going to let this go we will continue. To ask our military. To let us know what is happening when each of these reforms to make sure that they are properly implemented we have seen in 2013. Many more victims come forward an 80% increase. In the Marine Corps a 50% increase in the army we expect those numbers to go up we are going to -- ask the hard questions this is not a one year effort. We will ensure that we are vigilant. Ought to make sure that this issue remains on the top priority. Of our leadership in our military and that they will be held more accountable under our proposal so again I want to thank my colleagues for their leadership. And again we'll continue to work on this important issue together because there is always more work to be done thank you. You've been listening to senator Kelly -- from New Hampshire as well as senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri. Speaking on a bill in the senate that passed today that they had put forward on military sexual assaults for more on this I want to bring an ABC's -- felony on Capitol Hill on ABC's -- Martina. At Martinez at the Pentagon thank you very much Jeff I'm going to start with you two bills of course one senator Gillibrand stigma not make it through of course. Senator -- school did what are the changes proposed in this new bill. And is it more aggressive or -- Well there it is certainly more aggressive Michelle I mean there are. Who really sweeping up. Reforms and changes underway. But -- To how military. Commanders -- prosecute these cases but a key difference between senator Gillibrand spill as you've heard. And senator McCaskill spill was -- -- number castle's bill would leave the prosecution inside the military chain of command. As we just heard senator -- -- say. They believe that it would give. -- commanders more accountability if they're held to account and prosecute these cases and if they don't prosecute them they could be fired. The argument from senator Gillibrand was that these military commanders cannot independently and fairly. Prosecute these cases because they are so deeply involved in them so it really is just a difference in policy -- here but. Having 55 members of the senate today vote with senator Gillibrand. Including several Republicans likes like senator Mitch McConnell the minority leader of Kentucky shows that the senate is watching and that this is. If no changes are made -- -- increase in the reporting some sexual assaults of the senate will certainly apt to do more. And Jeff I think that's an important thing to notice that senator Gillibrand -- bill had majority support. Had a lot Obama's support not enough though but what with a key differences there. It needed a vote it needed sixty votes to move forward to effectively end debate or avoid a filibuster on this so what. Senator McCaskill bill does that it's primarily different -- in she pointed aside just a moment ago illuminates what. Many to refer to as the good soldier provision. Mean that boy if you fly a plane -- if you have good military records you may not be prosecuted as much for some type of a crime. Now that she said is is completely done away with under her provision of the bill that how you. How you perform militarily. Has nothing to do with how you are prosecuted for any type of assault that comes along and we've really seen -- victims come forward as saying if this was the exact most frustrating. I'm thing in their cases that someone who they were accusing of assaulting them. Was a good soldier in other respects and they weren't prosecuted this provision takes away that cinema -- thinks that's a good step. I'm aware want to ask you at the Pentagon supported very strongly opposing civilian oversight taking that out of the commander's hands what's there argument. Their argument is that this is the military system where there is a top down command structure and that basically anything that takes the -- command authority away from the military commander. That could lead to a loss of discipline within units so therefore they side as a negative that -- take away any kind of authority from the commander. And you know this is something that's very interesting because this the -- -- position to the Gillibrand bill -- is pretty much universal here at the Pentagon. I didn't matter. What service it didn't matter whether they were civilian or military. They were saying that this was not a good idea. -- had to catch in terms that they welcome the initiatives that are being put -- -- on the senate because anything any changes a good thing but -- Trip but it couldn't control when he came to this particular. Bill they just we're just totally unified against him. And you know we saw these two senators going head to head to women bringing forth. These two separate bills earlier Gillibrand told her colleagues that they had let down victims of sexual assault in the military. Let's listen -- that. All the arguments we've heard today. Our technical arguments arguments about why -- can't possibly do this. But the victims and the survivors. Of sexual assault have been blocking this congress for more than a year. Asking that we do something to protect them to get home for justice. What is she trusted -- can meet the people who do not trust -- chain of command are the victims. -- general Amos has admitted that. He -- The reason why I'm -- army does not come cooler in because -- does not trust the chain of command that breach of trust that. That's -- breach of trust. Has been broken for victims of sexual assault listening to the victim. And Jeff those are some pretty harsh words that we're hearing from senator Gillibrand did it make any impact at all like he sat there watching. If they are watching and it got 55 votes -- and that's not to be discounted here that is more of a majority. And in the senate but it again fell. Those five votes shy and I actually asked senator Gillibrand just a little bit ago. In her press conference if President Obama had supported this publicly I'm would that have made a difference and what she disappointed he didn't she said yes and yes. What she means that if she thinks the White House could have played a much bigger role in this and they could have urged other Democrats and perhaps Republicans to vote for this but. The commander in chief was reluctant to get involved with what his -- again on as -- has already said was was. Uniformly opposed to this here so. -- on Monday the -- is going to vote for the overall portion of this bill the McCaskill bill if you will that does put these reforms in place. And I do believe that the senate is going to be watching. And if there are any more examples of of prosecutions -- -- writer of the things I think that's what we were visited here in the senate and you know speaking after the voting Gillibrand was asked what's next -- her quest takes sexual assault cases out of the military chain of an analyst Nicholas. Good -- keep working on the reform we have another. NDA coming up -- And so I mean keep working on this particular form and also look -- other forms as you know I issued a letter to for the largest -- one for each service. Asking for all the records a sexual assault what was done when they're prosecuting with the convictions were Emmet county's work. Because the AP story of what happened in Okinawa. Was alarming not only did AP conclude that the disposition of these cases was chaotic but they -- two examples where after hearing evidence was developed and prosecutors said -- commander said now. And that obviously raises grave concern for me so we're gonna look -- deeper. Into what's actually happening and try to get that information that we been requesting from the DOD for over a year. Go back to the Pentagon now how prevalent or sexual assaults in the military were getting some new stats from the Pentagon. Well -- just by coincidence this new information coming out today Michelle that pentagon acknowledging that there was a 60% increase in the number of reported. Sexual assaults in the military last year that's over the previous year. That's not really large increase and the one thing up -- looking accurate depending that is why those numbers are growing up. I'm going up and one of the things that -- saying is that it's a positive. Because they say that there's more awareness out there among the force -- to report these kinds of crimes. And assaults and there's just more -- and eating more comfort zone. In victims stepping forward. I'm another piece of information came out today. Ways that can. -- the army's top prosecutor in charge of sex sexual assault crimes himself has been suspended. From his position because of an allegation that he -- one of his subordinates. So the irony not lost on many people here at the Pentagon today that you have this vote. That you placed on the senate. And at the same time these new developments in terms of higher numbers. Sexual assault cases being reported and they -- senior individual in need and the army himself being college -- have committed this crime he. -- charged with the protecting it from so even though -- that the policy hasn't changed yet this could indicate that the atmosphere within the military. Is changing. You know that an official -- -- talking all day about how yes we have this vote on the hill awareness has been raised up on Capitol Hill across the country and within the military. And they say that they have taken initiatives on their -- To try to reform the process the Gillibrand. -- deals specifically with the uniform code of military justice. Officials talking about how -- last year with the work of congress. They were able to enact some changes. That they he'll make it easier for victims to step forward. That take. Some of the that raise. Though the command structures so that while senator Gillibrand sat in my junior commanders being the ones -- wart cases update the -- for prosecution. That the changes that are taking place last year allow only for cardinals who -- very senior in rank to be the ones that decide whether case goes forward. So they think that the changes that they've taken already have. A lit thesis -- positive measures I was in the force. And that they welcome any additional. Changes but obviously not. -- -- Jeff something that's very interesting about this is usually there's a divide here between politics parties that's not the case here it's not partisan base so. Where -- the lines divide it. It sure wasn't Michelle and I was sitting in the senate gallery watching this vote take place. And it was really difficult to determine who is on what side you had some unlikely allies at least politically speaking with senator Gillibrand you had senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas him too conservative firebrand. On this side of senator Gillibrand because they argued that they believe that through a libertarian view if you will they believe that depending -- is wrong about this. And on the other side senator McCaskill had some Democrats and in some Republicans aligned with her. Overall more Republicans voted. Essentially -- depending on to keep this in the military chain and commandment. One person who didn't was senator Mitch McConnell. He is facing a tough challenge in Kentucky. By Alison -- Grimes she is -- at 35 year old Kentucky secretary of state. Who I'm told was poised to make this a campaign -- -- senator McConnell voted against. Depending on against him -- his Republican colleagues to support senator Gillibrand on this so the politics for all over the board in this -- -- the top Republican voting. With the democratic supporters but one thing I think is is -- -- I heard this throughout the debate if there was that this is even become a central theme in the hit Netflix -- House of cards for anyone who watches that. This military sexual assault issue was not discussed. Much in Washington in recent years it sure is now it is at the forefront of discussion here and I think that's one thing that all of this debate has done so how much do you think that it is art imitating life as well as affecting life. On and I think that the house of cards script -- -- is essentially ripped right out of these headlines here. But we haven't quite released I haven't gotten to the episode of house of cards to see if this bill fails or passes it looks like it's on the verge of the failing the last episode I -- but you know this is very true life and this is very. A reality a focused and there were victims appear in the senate gallery watching this today. And this is a very real and serious issue which I think is why it really has become sort of a popular culture because it is all. Two real service senator Gillibrand said she's not giving up. And one thing that it's clear she then managed to persuade so many senators to come -- her side I think we've not heard the last service. Very good that you had some victims there on hand and also Louis this debate is happening. As there are two prominent sexual assault case is currently being ruled on in the military courts give us a little background from -- -- -- one of them is taking place right now down at Fort Bragg in North Carolina this is the case -- -- -- general Jeffrey Sinclair. He is the one who while serving in Afghanistan was removed from his post -- is an assistant division commander. Because of allegations that he had -- not -- can connect committed adultery -- subordinate. But had engaged in sexual relations and -- had forced himself upon this individual. So what he did today he is he pled guilty to the lesser charges of adultery. By he still faces the charge of sexual assault however because that is going to be the most difficult -- -- prove. It says that as a legal gambit on his part here so -- -- faces less jail time for real important for the more serious case. -- back to you artists expected reform is also expected to pass the senate on Monday but now let's talk about the house -- the dynamics there. We heard speaker John Boehner -- that he was definitely not in favor of removing the -- -- from the military chain of command but I do believe that this -- The overall bill here is likely to pass the house and as these other reforms and and in fact some reforms. Have -- -- -- they were part of the defense of budgets and it was passed at the end of last year so these more modest reforms if you -- a different kind of reforms I believe -- haven't. A strong likelihood of passing. A passing in the house because they were a broadly supported after all this drama here in the senate. The senate -- just a few moments ago voted 100 to nothing to. Move ahead on the McCaskill bill so it. Everyone supports that at this point I expect a strong showing in the house as well very good and what does this mean for -- -- -- or other senators who might make another push for civilian oversight. I think it means that they are definitely going to stay on this and they can do it any time that the the defense budget comes up for -- reviews of basically that's every every year and she has about that she's going to stay on this I can tell you by talking to her the by going to a lot of committee hearings on the things this is -- -- issue. And she is. Staying focused on this and she has an ally of people -- -- -- -- -- become more of a popular cause for her so I think they will stay on this. And it's going to a dependable. Really what happens over was literally there depending on how does depending -- activities. Are these sexual assault cases and prosecution's going to continue to rise and will this put a dent in this rising the number of them will have -- -- ABC's -- felony on Capitol Hill and Louis Martinez at the Pentagon thank you both for joining us. You are of course can get a complete recap right here on For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York this has been an ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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