News Law and Policy

Procedural Vote Blocks Gillibrand’s Military Sexual Assault Bill

Erin Matson

After a year of focused debate, advocates for changing a culture of rampant sexual assault within the military were rebuked by a 55-45 procedural vote that did not allow the measure to advance to a full vote.

After a year of focused debate, advocates for changing a culture of rampant sexual assault within the military were rebuked by a 55-45 procedural vote in the Senate Thursday that did not allow the measure to advance to a full vote.

The Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 1752), sponsored by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), would remove the chain of command from the adjudication process for military sexual assault. Supporters of the blocked measure said the bill would make it more likely that victims would report crimes and see justice.

Upon its failure to proceed to a general vote on Gillibrand’s proposal, the Senate voted to advance the Victims Protection Act (S. 1917), sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), which would retain the authority of the commanders to deal with sexual assault within their ranks and introduce other, more moderate, reforms designed to lessen the occurrence of sexual assault within the military.

The floor debate Thursday was polite yet passionate, and focused more on support or opposition to Gillibrand’s proposal rather than the merits of one approach over the other. McCaskill’s supporters spent most of their floor time describing why they opposed the Military Justice Improvement Act rather than why they supported the reforms proposed in the Victims Protection Act. Speaking to her measure shortly before the vote, Gillibrand implored the chamber to “listen to the victims” and characterized arguments on the floor against her measure as technical in focus.

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As covered extensively by Adele Stan for Rewire, Gillibrand has tenaciously pursued her measure. The senator went into the floor debate with 55 known supporters of her bill, including not just reliable advocates for improving conditions for women in the military, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), but also more conservative members, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and David Vitter (R-LA).

Speaking on the floor against Gillibrand’s measure, Sen. McCaskill said, “We cannot let the commanders walk away.” She was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who spoke to the matter of sexual assault in the military with a view likely not shared by the scores of those victimized. “The worst thing that could happen in a unit is for the commander to say that this is no longer my problem,” he said. Also opposing the Gillibrand measure and supporting the McCaskill proposal was Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who serves as ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon estimated in a report for the 2012 fiscal year that there were 26,000 incidents of sexual assault within the military, with fewer than 3,400 of them reported.

Having failed to proceed to a general vote, the Military Justice Improvement Act has been returned to the full Senate calendar.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Sanders Vows to Continue the ‘Political Revolution’

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) seemingly signaled he is not yet ready to concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton, and he promised to help push for reforms within the party while working to keep presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump from winning the White House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) isn’t bowing out of the race for the Democratic nomination after the close of the presidential primaries, and Hillary Clinton took to the Huffington Post to talk about campus sexual assault and whether women should have to sign up for the draft.

“The Political Revolution Must Continue”: Sanders Vows in Thursday Night Address to Push for Party Reform

Sanders addressed supporters Thursday night after the 2016 presidential primary season ended earlier this week. He seemingly signaled he is not yet ready to concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton, and he promised to help push for reforms within the party while working to keep presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump from winning the White House.

“Election days come and go. But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week, and every month in the fight to create a nation and world of social and economic justice,” Sanders said during the address, which was live-streamed online. “Real change never takes place from the top on down or in the living rooms of wealthy campaign contributors. It always occurs from the bottom on up, when tens of millions of people say loudly and clearly ‘enough is enough’ and they become engaged in the fight for justice. That’s what the political revolution we helped start is all about. That’s why the political revolution must continue.”

“The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” Sanders continued, vowing to soon begin his role in ensuring the Republican doesn’t make it to the White House.

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“But defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal,” he added. “We must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become.”

Expressing his hope that he could continue to work with Clinton’s campaign, Sanders promised to ensure that supporters’ “voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.”

That agenda included raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ending the gender pay gap, defending reproductive rights, and protecting marriage equality in the United States, among other things.

Sanders’ speech came just after campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the campaign is “not currently lobbying superdelegates” and doesn’t “anticipate that will start anytime soon” during an interview on Bloomberg Politics’ With All Due Respect Thursday. The next day, Weaver told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Sanders is still “an active candidate for president.”

Clinton Weighs in on Stanford Sexual Assault Case, Women Joining the Draft

Hillary Clinton took a stand on two notable issues during an interview with the Huffington Post this week, telling the publication that she supported a measure in the Senate to require women to sign up for the draft and her thoughts about the Stanford sexual assault case.

“I do support that,” Clinton told the publication Wednesday when asked about the Senate’s approval of the National Defense Authorization Act, a military policy bill that would require women to sign up for the military draft once they turn 18, earlier in the week.

“I am on record as supporting the all-volunteer military, which I think at this time does serve our country well,” said Clinton. “And I am very committed to supporting and really lifting up the men and women in uniform and their families.”

As the New York Times reported, under the bill, “Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.”

Though the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that women weren’t required to register for the draft as they were not allowed to serve in combat, the Times continued, “since Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in December that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women, military officials have told Congress that women should also sign up for the draft.”

The draft registry has not been used by the United States since 1973, but requiring women to sign up for it has nevertheless been an issue on the campaign trail this election season. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called requiring women to register for the draft “nuts” in February prior to dropping out of the race for the White House, while other then-Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush all signaled they would support it.

During her interview with Huffington Post, Clinton also voiced her support for the survivor at the center of the controversial Stanford sexual assault case, saying she was “was struck by” the “heartbreaking power” of the letter the survivor wrote detailing her experiences.

“It took great courage and I think she has done an important service for others,” Clinton said. “What I’ve heard about this case is deeply concerning. It is clear campus sexual assault continues to be a serious problem. And I’ve said before and I will continue to say it is not enough to condemn it. We must find ways to end it.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee had previously released a platform for addressing the national crisis of campus sexual assault, which promises to “provide comprehensive support to survivors;” “ensure fair process for all in campus disciplinary proceedings and the criminal justice system;” and “increase sexual violence prevention education programs that cover issues like consent and bystander intervention, not only in college, but also in secondary school.”

What Else We’re Reading

Trump’s “endgame” could be launching a “mini-media conglomerate,” Vanity Fair reports.

“He was always very open about describing women by their breast size,” a crew member for Trump’s reality show The Apprentice told Slate of the presumptive Republican nominee. “Any time I see people in the Trump organization say how nice he is, I want to throw up. He’s been a nasty person to women for a long time.”

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando at an LGBTQ club, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director of the LGBT Rights Project, David Dinielli, noted that “candidates on the campaign trail-and even the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party-elevate radical anti-LGBT leaders.”

Fact-checkers at the Washington Post took on both Clinton and Trump’s speeches on national security after the massacre in Orlando over the weekend.

“Regardless of your politics, it’s a seminal moment for women,” said Oprah, who offered her endorsement to Clinton on Wednesday, when speaking about the presumptive Democratic nominee. “What this says is, there is no ceiling, that ceiling just went boom! It says anything is possible when you can be leader of the free world.”

CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Tal Yellin, and Ryan Browne offer a look into the implications of Trump’s proposed plan to “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.”

Univision penned an open letter on Tuesday expressing their concern over Trump’s decision to revoke press credentials for the Washington Post.

Republicans may have fewer women in the House next year after the election season wraps up.

Texas has already spent $3.5 million fighting multiple lawsuits over the state’s restrictive voter ID law, in what an attorney helping plaintiffs in one of the suits deemed a “shameful waste of taxpayer money.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) moved to make voting in the state easier for some this week, signing legislation that will allow residents with driver’s licenses and state IDs to register to vote online. What’s the catch? According to ThinkProgress, “the option will not be available until early next year, after the presidential election, despite the Republican Secretary of State’s insistence that the Ohio could implement the policy immediately.”

Analysis Politics

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Record on Women’s Health at Center of Heated Race

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election. Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”

The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has been Planned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”

Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”

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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign touting Ayotte’s record on women’s health.

Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”

But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?

Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.

In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.

Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”

“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.

Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.

According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.

National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015 it examined.

In 2012, Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants some employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”

Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares about women’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”

Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”

Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”

Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’s introduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day this April. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.

Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.

Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”

Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votes against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.

Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.

Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.

There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.

Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keep this portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.