Analysis Violence

Why Rand Paul and Ted Cruz Really Want Their Names on the Military Sexual Assault Bill

Adele M. Stan

In joining with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand to support the Democrat's bill, the anti-choice Republicans likely hope to convey some compassion for women—with an eye to the 2016 presidential primaries.

They make an odd senatorial trio, there’s no doubt: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Tea Party favorite; Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the neo-libertarian firebrand; and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the liberal champion of justice for sexual assault victims. But at a press conference (video here) on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the three stood together in support of Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which would remove the reporting and prosecution of sex crimes from the chain of command, a measure staunchly opposed by leaders of the armed forces.

In joining with Gillibrand to support the MJIA, Cruz and Paul, both regarded as contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, likely hope to convey some compassion for women, especially since both men hold stringent anti-choice positions—as in no exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the woman.

Cruz would allow a narrow exception for a threat to the life of the woman, while the position held by Paul, who authored the unsuccessful “Life at Conception Act,” has become a bit murky since his March interview with CNN, in which he used vague language about how “every individual case is going to be different.”

Their alliance with the New York Democrat also shores up both men’s reputations as mavericks who are unafraid of bucking the Republican establishment as they set out to charm the right-wing base that will turn out for GOP presidential primary races, while simultaneously helping Gillibrand buck her own party’s leaders.

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The addition of Cruz and Paul to the MJIA’s list of co-sponsors brings the number to 34; Gillibrand needs to line up at least 51 in order to see the measure go to the Senate floor for debate.

Last month, during the mark-up of the annual defense appropriation, Gillibrand suffered a serious defeat when Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, refused to include Gillibrand’s measure in the final bill, even as he allowed other measures targeting the military’s sexual abuse crisis, including a ban on commanding officers overturning sexual assault convictions, and would make retaliation against victims a crime. Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nor President Barack Obama have expressed support for the MJIA, despite the lip service they’ve paid to ending the scourge of sexual assault in the military.

Refusing to let her measure die, Gillibrand continued to seek support, her staff keeping tally of each new vote promised on a whiteboard in her Senate offices, according to Politico’s Anna Palmer and Darren Samuelson. The votes promised by Cruz and Paul are big gets for Gillibrand, making her bill all the more bipartisan (Sens. Susan Collins [R-ME], Chuck Grassley [R-IA], and Mike Johanns [R-NE] were already on board), and setting up a showdown for the Empire State’s junior senator with Levin, the long-serving committee chair, as well as with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who, like Gillibrand, is one of the Senate’s rising stars.

Gillibrand’s measure became a matter of intense debate in June, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top military brass were hauled before the Armed Services Committee to address the military’s sexual assault crisis after the Pentagon issued a report that estimated some 26,000 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” experienced by military personnel in the 2012 fiscal year, despite having received reports of only 3,374 sexual assaults.

Inconveniently for military leaders, a rash of news reports of sexual assaults and misconduct by military men surrounded the report’s release, including the May 7 arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, then the top official in the Air Force’s sexual abuse prevention unit, who was charged with having groped a civilian in the parking lot of a Virginia shopping mall.

Advocates for survivors of sexual assault in the military have long contended that the armed forces’ chain-of-command justice system frequently punishes victims—half of whom are men—for reporting such crimes, especially since the perpetrator is often of higher rank than the victim. Retaliation is rampant, say victims’ advocates.

As chairman of the personnel subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, Gillibrand looked at how such U.S. allies as Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia dealt with their own sexual assault crises in their armed forces, and found that they removed the adjudication of such crimes from the chain of command. So rather than depending on her commanding officer to seek justice on her behalf, a woman raped by a fellow soldier would see that crime handled by a special prosecutor.

At the June hearing at which generals, admirals, and commandants testified to their commitment to ending the assault crisis, Gillibrand noted that in Israel, reporting of such crimes by their victims increased by 80 percent after the adjudication process was removed from the chain of command. And despite the existence of the military’s current crisis for at least two decades, none of the brass could say that they had explored with U.S. allies how the removal of such crimes from prosecution within the chain of command had affected their operations.

Sen. McCaskill took an adversary posture when interacting with military officers at the hearing, but when push came to shove, she stuck with the brass in opposing Gillibrand’s measure.

Watching the momentum gathering behind Gillibrand’s uphill climb, the military has launched a full-court press of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. In the end, the success or failure of Gillibrand’s effort will offer a reading on just who ultimately controls the military—the civilian government, as the Constitution demands, or the generals themselves. In the meantime, if offers an interesting lesson on the dynamics within both political parties.

Roundups Politics

Ted Cruz Is No Moderate: Meet Some of His Most Extreme Allies

Ally Boguhn

The presidential candidate has lined up supporters who have suggested that marriage equality may usher in a second civil war and compared Planned Parenthood workers to perpetrators of clinic violence.

In his quest to secure conservative votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has embraced extremists across the country, many of whom have well-documented histories of anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and racist rhetoric. As more moderate Republicans flock to Cruz in a push to block Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, Cruz’s support of these extremists sheds light on his future policy making, should he be elected president.

Though hardly an exhaustive list of the radicals with whom Cruz has aligned, here are some of the most reactionary characters in his playbook.

Troy Newman

Cruz and activist Troy Newman, head of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, have spent months on the campaign trail praising each other’s extreme stances on abortion.

Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2002 to continue its campaign to intimidate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, whom it had nicknamed “Tiller the Killer.” Before Newman came on as president, the group had previously targeted Tiller as part of its 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” when it led protesters to physically block and verbally intimidate those entering abortion clinics in Wichita, holding signs that, among other things, read “Tiller’s Slaughter House.”

Although Newman issued a statement on behalf of Operation Rescue condemning Scott Roeder when he murdered Tiller in 2009, a 2010 Ms. investigation reported that, according to Roeder, Newman had once told him that “it wouldn’t upset” him if an abortion provider was killed. (Newman denied meeting Roeder.) Roeder also had the phone number of Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger on a note on the dashboard of his car when he murdered Tiller. Sullenger, the senior vice president of the group, had been sentenced to prison time in 1988 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic.

Newman co-founded anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013, whose widely discredited videos alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations. Multiple ensuing investigations at both the state and federal level produced no evidence of wrongdoing, and one of the group’s other founders, David Daleiden, was later indicted in connection to the videos. Newman later separated from the group.

Despite the extremism of Newman’s groups, Cruz lauded the anti-choice activist upon receiving his endorsement in November, saying in a statement, “We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”

Cruz announced in late January that Newman would co-chair his coalition of anti-choice advisers, “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” listing Newman’s book co-authored with Sullenger, Their Blood Cries Out, among his accomplishments. As Right Wing Watch noted, however, the text argues women who have abortions should be treated like murderers, and that abortion doctors should be executed. The book, now out of print, read: “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt [sic] from the land and people,” according to Mother Jones.

Tony Perkins

Troy Newman isn’t the only radical in “Pro-Lifers for Cruz”—the group’s chair, Tony Perkins, is an anti-LGBTQ activist with a history of aiding extremist anti-choice groups.

Since 2003, Perkins has led the Family Research Council (FRC), classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” for its anti-LGBTQ record.

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Recounting Perkins’ biography, the SPLC noted that although he claimed to have left a police force position over a disagreement about containing an anti-choice protest, “the reality is quite different.” The SPLC pointed to a report from the Nation finding that Perkins “failed to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion activists” Operation Rescue during the group’s 1992 “Summer of Purpose,” while he worked dual roles as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge and reporting for a conservative television station:

According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.

In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain-link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief. Then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by anti-abortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, he failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force.

Perkins also has ties to white supremacist groups and is well known as a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality, having suggested, among other things, that there is “a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia,” and that lawmakers who supported the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had “the blood of innocent soldiers on their hands.”

Frank Gaffney

Cruz’s list of national security advisers, meanwhile, includes Frank Gaffney Jr. Even in the face of criticism, Cruz has defended his pick, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadists, fighting jihadism across the globe.”

Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). In this year’s Intelligence Report, which documents extremist groups, the SPLC categorized CSP as an anti-Muslim hate group.

The CSP’s primary focus in recent years “has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security” by promoting conspiracy theories, according to SPLC. The Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, featured Gaffney as a key player in promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, writing that he often “makes unsubstantiated claims about ‘stealth jihad,’ the ‘imposition of Sharia law,’ and the proliferation of ‘radical mosques.'”

Gordon Klingenschmitt

Cruz announced in early April that his Colorado Leadership Team included state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), asserting he was “honored” to have the support of the politician and 24 other conservatives from the the state.

The previous week, Klingenschmitt had made headlines for claiming transgender people are “confused about their own identity” during an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Klingenschmitt had been previously stripped of his position on the Colorado House of Representatives’ House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in early 2015 after claiming on his television program that a violent attack on a pregnant woman in the state was the result of “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”

“Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open,” claimed Klingenschmitt at the time before going on to pray for an “end to the holocaust which is abortion in America.”

In the wake of the deadly shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in November 2015, Klingenschmitt claimed that “Planned Parenthood executives” have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr.

Earlier in 2015, the Colorado state representative said that Planned Parenthood executives have “demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.” That June, he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for signing a measure forcing those seeking abortions to receive medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds, claiming that the law didn’t go far in enough because it didn’t ban abortion entirely
James Dobson

Focus on the Family (FoF) founder and chairman James Dobson played a starring role in a February ad released by the Cruz campaign, which praised the candidate for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” That same month, he rolled out a robocall for a super PAC supporting the candidate after giving Cruz his endorsement last year.

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the aforementioned Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Other Notable Extremists Working With Cruz

Conservative radio host Steve Deace, a member of the Cruz campaign’s Iowa leadership team, is “virulently anti-LGBT, having repeatedly attacked supporters of LGBT equality as being part of a ‘Rainbow Jihad,'” according to media watchdog organization Media Matters for America.

In October Cruz announced he was “thrilled” to receive the endorsement of Sandy Rios, a conservative radio host and official at the American Family Association-yet another organization classified by the SPLC as a hate group. Rios gained notoriety during the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia after claiming the conductor’s sexuality may have played a role in the accident.

Cruz and several other Republican presidential candidates spoke alongside far-right, anti-LGBTQ pastor and Christian radio host Kevin Swanson in November at the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is featured in GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project, which highlights figures who “represent extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.”

A&E’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been a fierce Cruz supporter, and in February the presidential candidate pitched the idea of making him an ambassador to the United Nations should he be elected. Just weeks earlier, Robertson had called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally. This statement came as little surprise given the reality television star’s previous comments condemning homosexuality and linking it to bestiality.

Cruz was also “thrilled” in March to win an endorsement from “Ohio’s top conservative leaders”—a list that included activist Linda Harvey, who once wrote that LGBTQ youth may be possessed by “demonic spirits.”

News Law and Policy

Military Sexual Assault Reform Blocked Again in Senate

Emily Crockett

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest for military justice reform faced another setback on Tuesday, when the Senate blocked a vote to include the Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment to the 2016 defense spending bill.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest for military justice reform faced another setback on Tuesday, when the Senate blocked a vote to include the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) as an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The amendment failed on a 50-49 vote; it had majority support, but did not get the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. Last year, the MJIA fell five votes short of overcoming a filibuster.

The MJIA would end the practice of letting military commanders make decisions about prosecuting sexual assault cases from their ranks.

Gillibrand, along with many advocates for military sexual assault survivors, says these reforms are necessary because survivors don’t trust the system. Commanders often retaliate against survivors, or they may even be the ones accused of assault. Even sympathetic commanders are said to lack the legal training they would need to properly assess the cases.

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A recent report from Human Rights Watch found reports of retaliation against service members who report sexual assault. Survivors most often report being socially ostracized and threatened with violence by their peers, but they say commanders also retaliate by refusing to promote victims or demoting them to lesser duties.

The Pentagon’s most recent survey on sexual assault found that rates of retaliation haven’t changed, and that one in seven survivors was assaulted by someone in their chain of command.

“It is unacceptable that the retaliation rate has remained unchanged, and that the Pentagon cannot point to a single case where a penalty was levied against an individual who retaliated against a survivor who reported,” Gillibrand said in a statement after the vote.

The MJIA has an unlikely list of bipartisan supporters, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). A prominent Democratic opponent of the bill is Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-MO), who says that the reform wouldn’t do anything to prevent retaliation.

Gillibrand has called on President Obama to publicly support the bill, arguing that military brass—and thus the members of Congress who follow the Pentagon’s lead—would change their position “overnight” if the commander-in-chief declared the reform necessary.

“Those opposed to a fair justice system for our troops and their families are listening to the same generals that were against gay Americans serving their country or allowing women to serve equally,” said retired Colonel Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor, in a statement.