Fierce Floor Debate Ahead On Military Sexual Assault Proposals

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • THE MAIN EVENT IN THE SENATE TODAY: Is the ongoing debate over reforming how prosecutions of military sexual assaults are handled, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had hoped to schedule votes on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's and Sen. Claire McCaskill's proposals for this evening, but Republicans objected last night. He hopes to reach an agreement to hold a vote later today. Public support for Gillibrand's bill remains at 50, so she needs to find 10 more votes in order for her bill to pass.
  • TWO POWERFUL WOMEN CLASH: At the center of the debate are Gillibrand and McCaskill, both of whom sit on a very powerful committee, Senate Armed Services, ABC's TOM SHINE notes. Both want to end sexual abuse and rape in the military. But Gillibrand wants it out of the military chain of command while McCaskill sides with the Pentagon which opposes Gillibrand. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support Gillibrand. The Democrat at the very top, President Obama, has remained silent.
  • THE NUMBERS: Six in 10 Americans support letting independent prosecutors decide whether to place charges in sexual assault cases in the U.S. military, removing such decisions from the traditional chain of command. 59 percent in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll favor the proposed change, according to ABC's GARY LANGER. Thirty-six percent instead prefer to keep authority over sexual assault cases within the usual channels. Support for the change includes equal numbers of women and men, albeit more married women than single women, 65 vs. 53 percent. It's backed across the political spectrum, but by more Democrats and independents (about six in 10 in both cases), than Republicans (53 percent). There's a larger difference ideologically: While about two-thirds of liberals and moderates alike support creating special prosecutors for military sexual assault cases, that declines to 48 percent of conservatives in this poll.


ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The debate over military sexual assault has gradually gained steam over the last six months in the Senate and is coming to somewhat of a dramatic conclusion. Kirsten Gillibrand bucked her leadership on the Armed Services Committee, she stood up to the top brass in the Pentagon and simply wouldn't take no for an answer. When you ask senators why they are supporting her amendment to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of military command, they say: She made a persuasive and relentless case and was more aggressive than Claire McCaskill and those on the other side of the argument. While Gillibrand remains a few votes short of the 60 needed, it still may be a little too early to count her out. Several Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, have yet to say how they intend to vote. It's been an ugly debate at times, particularly when McCaskill and her allies have been accused of not caring about sexual assault victims. But this is an easy issue to pounce on, particularly for senators who have female opponents next year.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Lost in the Democratic angst over Obamacare is a simple fact of 2014 politics: They don't really have any choice but to own it. If the new health care law is anywhere close to its current unpopularity in 10 or 11 months, it will be the biggest issue, and perhaps close to the only issue, that Republicans push in the midterm elections. No quantity of votes on "fixes" now will matter in the broad messaging wars later; no lawmaker, and virtually no Democratic challenger, will be able to seal him or herself off from potential political damage. So while red-state Democrats rightly worry about the impact of the health care law, and what they can do to minimize the worst effects, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is right to counsel (and direct) patience among his caucus. The only path for Democrats now is to fix, not fret.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The Republican Governors Association holds their annual conference this week in Scottsdale, Arizona and 26 of 30 GOP governors are expected to attend. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will become the head of the organization at the forum and expect heavy criticism of Washington from all the state chief executives. There's also a good chance the next GOP presidential nominee could be part of the group. This week when Christie was asked what it would take for a Republican to beat Hillary Clinton and if he could do it, he answered that he has "no idea" if he can, but described the candidate that he believes would be successful: "We need someone who will be clear, direct, authentic and say what they think," he said. Sounds quite familiar, right? Expect the group to criticize the president, but they will also want to distinguish themselves from both parties in Washington, something the Democratic Governors Association is trying to hit down ahead of the conference with a memo out today where they say the only message Republican governors "have left" is "At least we're not like those guys in DC!" "While Christie was able to distract from the substantive issues of his reelection campaign through sheer force of personality, Kasich, Walker, Synder, Scott, and crew just aren't Chris Christie - they'll be forced to defend their records. That's awful news for the RGA and a reality that should cause great concern in Scottsdale this week," DGA spokesperson Danny Kanner said.


IF KENNEDY LIVED: IMAGINING A DIFFERENT FATE 50 YEARS LATER. What if President John F. Kennedy had lived? Historian Jeff Greenfield imagines how history would have changed if Lee Harvey Oswald hadn't been successful in firing a fatal shot to Kennedy 50 years ago. It's the latest alternative history from Greenfield in his new book, "If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy." Greenfield, who re-examined the political realities that were present prior to the assassination, told "The Fine Print's" JEFF ZELENY he believes that Kennedy's survival would have likely meant the demise of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson's political career. "The moment John Kennedy was shot, quite literally, LIFE Magazine - a very important medium back then - was launching a huge investigation into how this public servant had accumulated a $14 million net worth, and the answer wasn't pretty," Greenfield said of Johnson. The investigation was halted once Kennedy died, Greenfield said, "Because it would've been too much of a shock to the system." But in Greenfield's alternate history, the investigation grows into a scandal for Johnson, and Kennedy ultimately replaces him in his second term. Greenfield also argues that the president's "reckless" personal life would have eventually caught up with him - and that reports of his extramarital affairs may have become public.

NOTED: FIFTY YEARS LATER, MANY STILL SEE BROADER JFK PLOT, COVER-UP. Fifty years later, majorities of Americans still believe that John F. Kennedy's assassination was part of a broader plot and that a government cover-up tried to keep the public from learning the truth. But both suspicions have subsided from their peaks, ABC's GREG HOLYK notes. Sixty-two percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll believe the killing was the work of more than one person; as many also think the government has tried to conceal the facts. But underscoring that these are mainly suspicions, far fewer, 29 percent, feel sure that a conspiracy occurred. The rest call it just their hunch. Despite their continued appeal, conspiracy theories of JFK's assassination are less common today than in the past. Suspicions about a wider plot peaked at eight in 10 Americans 30 years ago, while the number who suspect a government cover-up topped out at 81 percent in 1993. More recently, suspicions about a plot have subsided by 8 percentage points, and views of a conspiracy have eased by 6 points, compared with an ABC poll 10 years ago.


FLORIDA REP. TREY RADEL TO APPEAR IN COURT TODAY ON COCAINE CHARGE. Trey Radel, the Florida Republican congressman charged with cocaine possession, is expected to appear in a Washington, D.C., court later today, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON and STEVEN PORTNOY report. The freshman congressman was the target of an undercover sting operation, law enforcement sources told ABC News. Radel, according to sources, first came on the radar of federal authorities when a suspected cocaine dealer under investigation by a joint Drug Enforcement Administration/FBI task force told agents that one of his customers was the Florida congressman. DEA and FBI agents then set up the undercover drug sting. Radel, 37, allegedly purchased a small quantity of cocaine from an undercover federal agent in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 29. but was not arrested, according to a law enforcement official. Agents maintained their cover and Radel went home. Later that evening, federal agents visited Radel at his home and advised him he had just purchased cocaine from a federal agent. The charging document states that Radel "did unlawfully, knowingly, and intentionally possess a quantity of cocaine."

OBAMA: REBRANDING OBAMACARE WILL BE A CHALLENGE. President Obama admitted that, even once the health care website is working properly, he faces an uphill battle to "remarket and rebrand" his signature law in the face of political opposition, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Tuesday, the president said Republican resistance contributed to the rocky Obamacare rollout. "What was already going to be hard was operating within a very difficult political environment and we should have anticipated that that would create a rockier rollout than if Democrats and Republicans were both invested in success," Obama said. "One of the problems we've had is one side of Capitol Hill is invested in failure and that makes, I think, the kind of iterative process of fixing glitches as they come up and fine-tuning the law more challenging," he added. Once the problems with the website are resolved, the president said "we're going to have to, obviously, remarket and rebrand, and that will be challenging in this political environment." The president reiterated that will be "functioning for the majority of people who are using it" by the end of the month and predicted that consumers will have time to catch up before the enrollment deadline.

HARRY REID EYES NUCLEAR OPTION AGAIN TO BREAK LOGJAM. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he is once again considering making major changes to long-standing Senate rules in an effort to break a logjam of President Obama's nominees who have been blocked by Republicans, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports. He stopped short of saying he had decided to invoke the so-called nuclear option, which would effectively blow up the customs and traditions of the Senate filibuster. But he made clear that his frustration had reached a new level in the face of obstruction for the president's nominees. "I'm at the point where we need to do something to allow government to function," Reid told reporters when asked if he would consider using the nuclear option to change Senate rules by a simple majority vote. Senate Republicans have blocked three consecutive nominees to the country's most powerful appeals court, the latest of which came Monday. Dozens of other nominees to appointments across the government have also been blocked - or slow-walked - by Republicans, which has escalated already deep partisan tensions in the Senate. "The founding fathers never had a place in the Constitution about filibusters or extended debate," Reid said. "This country operated fairly well for 140 years without filibuster protection."

OBAMA WON'T PICK SIDES IN DEBATE OVER MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT REFORM. With a vote in the Senate approaching, the White House has steered clear from picking sides in the fight over how best to address prosecutions of sexual assault in the military, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. The White House yesterday declined repeatedly to say whether President Obama supports an amendment that would take prosecution of military sexual assaults out of the chain of command. "The president does feel very strongly, as you know, having heard him discuss this. And we have been working with members of Congress on this issue," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "On the underlying bill I don't have any more insight on potential amendments at this time." The Senate is at odds over an amendment offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., which removes the chain of command from the prosecution of sexual assaults in the military, meaning commanders would not handle the cases of their subordinates. Earlier this week, Gillibrand told ABC News' Martha Raddatz that she hoped the president would come out in support of her bill. "I'm so hopeful that he will. Because this is an opportunity for him to show extraordinary leadership on this issue," Gillibrand said on "This Week" on Sunday.


PRESIDENT OBAMA REFLECTS ON GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. On the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, President Obama took pen to paper to write his own tribute to Abraham Lincoln's famous words, ABC's BETSY KLEIN notes. "In the evening, when Michelle and the girls have gone to bed, I sometimes walk down the hall to a room Abraham Lincoln used as his office," Obama writes. "It contains an original copy of the Gettysburg Address. … I linger on these few words that have helped define our American experiment: 'a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.'" The president honored Lincoln's historic Civil War speech in 272 words that he wrote by hand on White House stationery:


@pewresearch: In March 1963, 74% expected Kennedy to be reelected. See @AndrewKohut1's "JFK's America"

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@politicalwire: Jeb Bush's travel schedule seems to contradict the idea that he's not thinking about running for president …

@Max_Fisher: The State Dept has warned all Americans against traveling to North Korea for the first time since 1995. Something up.

@ruthreichl: Pale sky. Brisk air. Winter has arrived. Spicy ginger tea. The comfort of congee. Splash of soy, scatter of scallion. Chiles. So soothing.