Tea party Republican Senators Rand Paul (TN) and Ted Cruz (TX) have joined an effort spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand to take prosecution of military sexual assaults out of the armed forces chain of command and place it in civilian hands. According to Politico, the two outspoken conservatives, who have both hinted at presidential runs in 2016, could provide Gillibrand's bill, with "critical conservative cover" that it will need to gain a majority of votes in the Senate.
The purpose of the bill is to take the prosecution of sexual assaults of the military's chain of command and hand it over to civilian authorities. Outside the military hierarchy, officers and subordinates alike will be treated as equal before the law. Currently, the majority of sexual assaults in the military go unpunished, if they are reported at all.
“When any victim of sexual assault is forced to salute her attacker,” Gillibrand said at a press conference in May, “clearly our system is broken.”
Paul will reportedly appear at a press conference on Tuesday alongside other senators friendly to the effort, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The proposal to re-structure the military's prosecution system for sexual assaults came about earlier this year after a series of embarrassing revelations for the military, including the arrests of several key personnel assigned to prosecute sexual harassment and assaults for those very crimes.
According to his office, Paul is concerned that military members may be falsely accused of sex-related crimes.
“Sen. Paul believes that the vast majority of our service members are honorable and upstanding individuals,” said Paul spokesperson Moira Bagley in an email to Politico. "In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted properly.”
Cruz joined the effort saying that if our allies have adopted similar programs, then the U.S. might as well follow suit and "modernize" the military's system.
"Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen marked improvement,” he wrote in a statement.
Gillibrand's proposal currently has 32 cosponsors. She is expected to tout the effort's "strong and growing bipartisan coalition" at Tuesday's press conference, according to notes obtained by Politico.
One Democratic aide told the publication that the addition of Cruz to the effort could make the difference in whether the bill passes, "The senator being fully on board kind of opens up possibilities. It doesn’t split along partisan ideology lines. It’s about folks who want to take on the status quo...It can shake up the equation.”
UPDATE: Gillibrand issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that said, in part:
“What our strong and growing bipartisan coalition has shown is that ending sexual assaults in the military by creating an independent and accountable military justice system is not a partisan or ideological issue. Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the right idea."
Watch video of the press conference, uploaded to YouTube, below:
[image of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul via Gage Skidmore's Flickr photostream, Creative Commons licensed]