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Alwyn Cashe's long-awaited Medal of Honor is delayed in the Senate

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died after pulling fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005.

U.S. ARMY

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: October 23, 2020

WASHINGTON — The long-awaited Medal of Honor for Alwyn Cashe, who suffered fatal wounds while pulling six soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq, has been delayed in the Senate as lawmakers fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, according to congressional officials familiar with the issue.

Cashe, 35, died Nov. 5, 2005, about three weeks after repeatedly entering the vehicle to save colleagues from further harm. His story has been the subject of a multiyear effort by his family and many veterans to award him the nation's highest award for valor in combat, and received support from Defense Secretary Mark Esper in August after lengthy deliberations in the Army.

If awarded, Cashe would be the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The president is expected to support the award, said a White House official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because to the ongoing deliberations on Capitol Hill.

The House on Sept. 23 unanimously passed a bill that would waive a restriction that states the Medal of Honor must be awarded within five years of a service member's heroic actions. A bipartisan version of the bill was immediately introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Cotton. R-Ark., with support from Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, R-Fla., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Advocates for Cashe's family and some lawmakers initially anticipated that the Senate version of the bill could pass within days with a batch of other noncontroversial legislation through a process known as "hotlining," officials said.

But Cashe's case has dragged out, first as the Senate left town for two weeks amid a coronavirus outbreak that afflicted several Senate Republicans, and then as the Senate has wrangled over Barrett's nomination.

Senators also have clashed this week over attempts to pass more financial stimulus in response to the pandemic. Republicans tried to pass a $500 billion bill, which failed on a 51-44 party line vote as Democrats seek a larger and more comprehensive effort.

Republicans have sought to confirm Barrett quickly, while Democrats have said the issue should be decided after the election. In the meantime, unanimous consent votes have slowed ahead of Barrett's expected Oct. 26 confirmation vote, and Cashe's case continues to wait, Senate officials said.

"There are no objections that we're aware of, but it's caught up in the political stoppage, if you will," said one official familiar with the discussions. With the Barrett vote pending, the official said, "The Senate floor is a mess."

A Senate Republican familiar with the issue said that he has seen no objections from Republicans or Democrats to Cashe's award, but that it may not get a vote until the lame-duck session of Congress, after the election.

"Something like this is going to get done," the official said. "It's just a matter of when, is my prediction."

The delay has raised concerns among Cashe's supporters in both parties, especially since the Senate is expected to adjourn until after the election, following the vote on Barrett next week. The lame-duck session may be especially volatile and challenging to approve legislation, given how bruising the presidential election has been, they said.

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., who co-sponsored the House legislation, said he is hopeful that Cashe's bill can be passed in the Senate before the election.

"This is on the one-yard line, and the family has been waiting 15 years," Waltz said in a phone interview. "Everything is aligned right now, and it just takes a procedural move to make it happen. There are just too many unknowns after the election."

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who proposed the House version of the bill, said certain issues should transcend politics, and this is one.

"Since our bill unanimously passed the House, we've been working with Senate allies on both sides of the aisle to get it across the finish line," she said. "Alwyn Cashe's family, along with the military veterans who've have led this grass-roots effort, have waited long enough to see Alwyn properly honored. I remain optimistic we will get this done."

Cotton said in a statement that Cashe's family has "waited too long to see him properly honored for his heroism." He urged Senate colleagues "to allow this bill to proceed immediately."

A Democrat in the Senate said nothing is stopping supporters of Cashe in the Senate from seeking time on the Senate floor to ask for unanimous consent on the bill, circumventing the delay. Such a move would jump-start the process for the bill individually.

But doing so forces the issue in a way that is atypical in the Senate, other Senate officials said.

If the Senate approves the legislation, Esper has said he will approve the package and send it to Trump.

Two Democrats said that the Cashe case also has been complicated by Trump's threats to veto the defense spending bill due to language in it that would change the names of U.S. military installations that recognize Confederate military officers. The bill has a provision that would eliminate the need for legislation to waive the five-year statute of limitation on a valor medal in favor of allowing a service secretary to authorize it after a 60-day congressional review.

Cashe, of Oviedo, Fla., was initially awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award, for his actions in Iraq. His battalion commander at the time, now-Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, has said that he did not initially realize the full extent of Cashe's actions.

According to his Silver Star citation, Cashe was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over an improvised explosive device in Samarra, Iraq. He was slightly injured and drenched in fuel, but made multiple trips into the burning vehicle to recover others anyway. Army officials said he suffered burns over at least 72% of his body.