Gillibrand Gaining?

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Sen. Rand Paul announces his support for removing commanders from investigations of serious military crimes, including sexual assault, alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is leading the charge for the change.

The battle to remove the military’s chain of command from investigating sexual assaults has intensified as a pair of Tea Party senators has allied with 33 of their more liberal colleagues in the effort.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., declared their support Tuesday for the so-called Military Justice Improvement Act authored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The bill would give the power to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual abuse and other possible crimes to a senior military officer outside the accused’s chain of command.

“I see no reason why conservatives shouldn’t support this,” Paul said.

“This is not a Democratic idea,” Gillibrand added. “It is not a Republican idea. It is a good idea that meets the needs of the victims, creates transparency and accountability, and creates the needed objectivity that this issue deserves.”

The backing of Cruz and Paul surprised political operatives on both sides of the issue. “Rand Paul gets it right,” read an email from Erica Payne at the liberal Agenda Project. “A decidedly progressive value is to give credit where credit is due and today every progressive in America should give credit to Rand Paul — and his Tea Party colleague Ted Cruz — for doing the right thing about rape in the military.”

But William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard wasn’t pleased, declaring that “Paul and Cruz Join the Anti-Military Caucus” in a blog post. “Sens. Paul and Cruz are signing on to Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal to undermine the military’s chain of command,” he said, “on behalf of the pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault.”

Gillibrand’s growing bipartisan alliance to reach 51 votes still has a tough battle ahead, given that the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 17-9 last month to keep commanders in charge of such investigations, a position supported by senior U.S. military leaders. “It’s commanders who make it work,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Tuesday about his preferred approach, which would tighten oversight of such investigations. “They give orders — they discipline people who violate those orders, and that’s what you want.”

The issue could come to the Senate floor as early as next week. Sexual assault in the U.S. military has come to a head following the May release of a Pentagon report estimating that sexual assaults in the ranks jumped by 35% between 2010 and 2012, and a string of sexual assaults dating back to the Navy’s 1991 Tailhook scandal where naval aviators assault dozens of women at their drunken annual convention in Las Vegas.

“It’s enough with the words,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who won election to the Senate the year after Tailhook, following a decade in the House, and who endorses Gillibrand’s proposal. “It’s enough with the empty promises. It’s time for some real change.”