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NY senator's military sex assault bill to get a vote

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will get a showdown vote next month on her bill to fundamentally change how the military handles sexual assault cases — and she said she remains confident she will have the votes to pass it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has committed to a floor vote on her measure during this Congress, Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said Tuesday.

"I've already asked Sen. Reid for a vote and he has guaranteed me a vote," Gillibrand, New York's junior Democratic senator, said in a phone interview.

She said she had hoped to get a vote this month, but that it will be pushed into January by a full schedule of votes on judicial nominations before the Christmas break begins on Dec. 20.

"I think the most important thing is that these survivors have a vote," Gillibrand said.

Her measure to shift the decision on how to prosecute sexual assault cases from the chain of command to military prosecutors has shaken the military establishment.

Gillibrand discussed her next steps the day after her bid to attach the measure to the Defense reauthorization fizzled when the House and Senate Armed Services committees announced they had agreed on a slimmed-down version of that bill -- without amendments.

Gillibrand will have to round up 60 votes to pass her bill, since it will face objection, and she said she is confident she will. "We have a real hope of getting 60," she said.

The bill, opposed by the military establishment in the Pentagon and Congress, already has 53 public supporters among senators and a few others who haven't gone public, she said.

Another eight or nine senators are considering what to do, Gillibrand said, and they will be lobbied before the vote by survivors of military sexual attacks and retired officers who favor her approach.

If the Senate passes it, Gillibrand said, she would continue her high-profile support in the House, where there are two bills similar to hers.

Those two bills have a combined 182 co-sponsors, she said, and her goal is to boost that number to 218 -- the number of House votes needed to pass it.

She said she's been down this path before: "That actually is the way we repealed 'don't ask don't tell' " — the discarded policy on gays in the military.
 

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