TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Backs Gillibrand Bill to Curb Military Sexual Assault

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during CNN's Town Hall interview on June 17, 2014. David Holloway—AP

Move puts Clinton on the other side of Obama, the Pentagon and Claire McCaskill on the issue

Hillary Clinton revealed a surprising position Tuesday: She actually supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to take the handling of sexual assaults in the military outside the chain of command. The bill failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate in March. Instead, a version sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, which tightens the Pentagon’s prosecution of such cases, passed into law.

From the interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour:

MS. AMANPOUR: So, do you believe — hard choice — would you take this out of the chain of command?

MS. CLINTON: Well, I supported my friend Kirsten Gillibrand, and she wanted to take it out of the chain of command.

MS. AMANPOUR: Yes, she did.

MS. CLINTON: And remember it’s not only women, it’s men, who’ve been assaulted as well.

MS. AMANPOUR: That’s what I said, but mostly women.

MS. CLINTON: Mostly women, that’s right.

And she was — she was a fierce advocate for it. It was not successful this time around. Another approach was taken. But I think everybody on both sides of the aisle knows, if there is not evidence that this other approach is working, then we should go back to Kirsten’s proposal.

Clinton’s endorsement was news to Gillibrand, a Democrat who succeeded Clinton in her New York senate seat. Gillibrand and her staff learned about it on television. “Based on Secretary Clinton’s record of standing up for human rights, we were not surprised,” said Glen Caplin, Gillibrand’s communications director.

The move was surprising in that it means that if she becomes President, the normally hawkish Clinton would go against the advice of military brass and remove the cases from the chain of command. It also must have had a little bit of a silver lining dig at McCaskill, who endorsed Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008. McCaskill this time around is an early endorser of another potential Clinton candidacy.

Gillibrand intends to bring her bill back up next year. The question is, if she’s in the middle of a campaign at that point, will Clinton campaign on it? It is an issue popular with the Democratic base and with female swing voters—so like many things in Clinton-land, it’s not a terrible position to take, if you’re thinking in terms of triangulation and, um, an election.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Interview: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Running for President, Sexual Assault in the Military and College Campuses and Why Women Should Rule

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attends a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 6, 2014.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attends a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 6, 2014. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells TIME she'll consider running "someday," but says Hillary Clinton will be "our first woman president." Days after her sexual assault bill failed to overcome a filibuster, she adds "I will certainly never give up the fight"

President Obama may want to watch out: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has him in her sights. The New York Democrat is anticipating the next time she sees the President and has an proposition for him: “If he’s looking for ideas for things he can do with the power of the pen, [paid family leave] may be one of them—that he could actually instill paid leave for federal workers,” Gillibrand says, brimming with enthusiasm in an interview with TIME in her Senate office.

Her plan to expand paid family leave is just one part of a women’s agenda that Gillibrand says she’ll spend the better part of this year pushing. “One of the biggest problems is that our work place rules do not reflect the face of the workforce. In New York State, 48% of workers are women and our workplace policies are stuck in the 50’s and 60’s,” Gillibrand says. “Women are earning more than half of the college degrees, more than half of the advanced degrees. So when you’re constantly undermining them by not having the support necessary in the work place, you are going to undermine the full potential of our workers and our economy.”

Though Democrats have made women’s economic issues the centerpiece of their 2014 electoral strategy, Gillibrand says she is looking to work with Republicans. “My goal is to reach across the aisle and find some cosponsors on each piece of legislation,” she says. “I’m more concerned about that than making it an electoral issue.”

Still, it’s on the merit of the issues that she is helping half a dozen female candidates run for Congress as part of her program and PAC called Off the Sidelines, which is also the title of her forthcoming book in September. Gillibrand has five issues that she asks her candidates, women voters, and virtually every woman she meets, to support: raising the minimum wage, universal pre-kindergarten, affordable day care, paid family leave and equal pay for women. “It’s a call to action, asking women to participate in politics all across the country,” she says, “to make sure that women are voting, to make sure their voices are being heard.”

As for her own call to higher office? Say in 2016? Not happening, she says. “I will consider it someday, I’m sure, but not any time in the near future,” she says of running for President. “Hillary Clinton will be our first woman president. I think she will run in 2016. I think she will win in 2016. I will help her. I will campaign for her.”

Besides, Gillibrand says, she has too much unfinished work in the Senate, like tackling sexual assault on college campuses and getting through her sexual assault in the military bill that failed last week—in no small part thanks to the tacit opposition of Obama, who said he wanted a year to study the issue. “That year of study is nearly expired by the end of this year so I will be asking for President Obama for his support for this legislation as we begin to show this is not a problem that can be fixed easily,” Gillibrand says. “I will certainly never give up the fight.” As Obama well knows few senators are as dogged as Gillibrand when she has found a cause. The President’s signature pens for legislation Gillibrand has pushed through—the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the 911 First Responders Fund and emergency aid for Sandy Hook—decorate Gillibrand’s office.

Gillibrand sat down with TIME for a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday morning. Below are excerpts of her remarks:

Q. What do you tell women who are thinking of running?

I describe what my life is like so they know it’s possible. I obviously bring my kids to school on most days, pick them up on most days. I make them dinner most days but I am somebody who can generally set my schedule. Unlike the lady who is going to clean this office tonight or the ladies doing a double shift in an emergency room, or a shift worker, they generally don’t get to set their hours. So I’m able to manage my time and be there for my kids in a way that I need to be and be here at work when I need to be. If I have late night votes, I’ll get a sitter. If I have late night meetings, I’ll get support. If I have to travel, my mom will visit.

Q. What is the Off the Sidelines goal?

It’s a call to action, asking women to participate in politics all across the country: to make sure that women are voting; to make sure their voices are being heard; to choose issues that they care about and become advocates on those issues.; to run for office and if they don’t want to run for office, find a woman candidate who shares your values. With only 18% women in the House and only 20% women in the Senate, often women’s voices aren’t heard at the level that they should be. We should have 51% of women in Congress reflecting our actual population, as opposed to being a very small minority.

Q. Are you targeting women voters with your women’s agenda?

I’m targeting the entire middle class because one of the biggest problems is that our work place rules do not reflect the face of the workforce. In New York State 48% of workers are women and our workplace policies are stuck in the 50’s and 60’s. We are the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have paid medical family leave. What happens time and time again is that in a family emergency—an ill child, or a dying parent, or a new baby—it’s often the women that have to ramp off their careers because they don’t have paid leave… Unfortunately, this results in more women having to start again in a lower paying job, sometimes having to change fields, missing out on promotion and retirement. When all of your workforce isn’t working to your full potential it’s just a drag on the economy. Women are earning more than half of the college degrees, more than half of the advanced degrees…

Raising the minimum wage affects everyone but two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, so it especially affects women. If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to create economic growth. More people are going to spend more money in the economy every single day, so it’s important for the whole economy. The same with universal pre-K or affordable day care. Both of these issues would keep more working parents in the work force during early childhood years, but it also allows those children to reach their full potential. The National Institute of Health says every dollar that you put into early childhood education, you get $11 out during the lifetime of that individual. It’s such an economic engine that’s going untapped and we’re not realizing the full potential of our future workforce.

Q. How much of the agenda, though, do you think you could realistically get through in an election year?

The one’s that moving the fastest is minimum wage. I’m actually quite optimistic that we might be able to include that by the end of the year. Paid family medical leave… I hope to speak to the president specifically about it and ask: why not do this for federal workers? If he’s looking for ideas for things he can use with the power of the pen, this may be one of them, that he could actually instill paid leave for federal workers… Universal pre-K is going to be something that goes state by state the same way that we did marriage equality and then will get amplified on the federal level… The Affordable day care legislation is a tax credit, something Republicans are very fond of… Every piece of it has the possibility to move forward in this Congress.

Q. Are women voters the Democrats’ secret weapon n the 2014 midterms?

I’m hoping that it’s not a partisan issue. I am hoping that we will actually build Republican support this year. My goal is to reach across the aisle and find some co-sponsors on each piece of legislation.

Q. Last week must have been disappointing. You saw your bill on sexual assault on the military fail to overcome a filibuster. Where do you go from here?

I will certainly never give up the fight. We’re just still building momentum, we were only a few votes shy of being able to overcome the filibuster. We had the majority of the Senate. We had a bipartisan wide-ranging majority of the Senate. To have both Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid and senators with view points as disparate as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, it’s extremely meaningful. We need to just keep working, keep developing the evidence and making sure that people understand what it really is like serving in the military if you’ve been raped and how difficult it is to report because of the breach of trust with the chain of command. And as far as I’m concerned, I feel like we’re just getting started.

Q. What are the next steps?

My goal this year is to continue to speak with senators who did not side with us by introducing more evidence to them, more information and continue to try and get their support. I will work with our House colleagues to see if they can get a vote because they were not allowed a vote when we did the [National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA]. But we have another NDAA coming up in just another few months, and that’s going to be the next opportunity for both my bill and the bill in the House.

Q. Obama tacitly worked against you here. Is he to blame?

He is still looking at the issue and what he said is he wants to eradicate sexual assault in the military but he wanted it to have a year of study. That year of study is nearly expired by the end of this year so I will be asking for president Obama for his support for this legislation as we begin to show this is not a problem that can be fixed easily and it needs real reform. It needs transformative reform and we need to listen to the victims. At the end of the day, the issue that the victims bring up over and over and over again is they don’t report these crimes because they don’t trust the chain of command. Until you address that fundamental breach, I don’t think that you have hope that we’re going to fix the problem.

Q. You’ve said you won’t run in 2016 if Hillary Clinton runs. If she doesn’t run, would you consider a bid?

No. I feel so privileged that I get to serve in the Senate.

Q. So you wouldn’t consider it at all?

No.

Q. Ever?

No, I don’t think so.

Q. Not ever ever?

[laughter]

I will consider it someday, I’m sure, but not any time in the near future.

Q. Do you think the country is ready for the first woman President?

I do and I think Hillary Clinton will be our first woman president. I think she will run in 2016. I think she will win in 2016. I will help her. I will campaign for her. I will make sure that we get the vote out for her. I just think that there’s no one better poised than her to lead this country. With all of her breadth of experience I think there’s no better candidate to be president.

Q. You’ve worked with both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, what do you make of the Republican field in 2016?

Our candidate’s better! [Laughter]

Q. Anything else that you’re working on?

We’re also going to start delving into sexual assault on college campuses… I’ve been hearing very troubling reports that we need a deep dive, in the same way we did into sexual assaults in the military. I’d like to introduce legislation this year… I suspect that this will be very bipartisan.

TIME

Senate Passes Bill Tightening Regs on Sexual Assault in the Military

From left: Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Kelly Ayotte at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2014, following a Senate vote on military sexual assaults .
Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Kelly Ayotte at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2014, following a Senate vote on military sexual assaults. Charles Dharapak—AP

The Senate passed landmark legislation overhauling how the Defense Department handles sexual assault cases on a 97-0 vote, sending it to the House after a competing and more extensive bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand failed to beat a filibuster

As predicted, the Senate on Monday passed landmark legislation overhauling the regulations on how the Defense Department handles cases of sexual assault.

The bill, passed the the legislation 97-0. It now goes to the House where passage is also likely. The measure’s success was all but assured Friday after a competing bill sponsored by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand failed to overcome a Senate filibuster.

“Unanimous agreement in the U.S. Senate is pretty rare—but rarer still is the kind of sweeping, historic change we’ve achieved over the past year in the military justice system,” McCaskill said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “Today the Senate voted to strengthen even further what is now one of the most victim-friendly justice systems in the world, in which every victim will get their own lawyer, commanders will be held accountable, and more perpetrators will see the inside of a brig.”

Gillibrand, too, vowed to continue fighting for her measure. The key difference between the two bills is that Gillibrand’s legislation would have taken the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and given it to the Judge Advocates General Corps. Gillibrand argues that roughly a quarter of all sexual assault cases are perpetrated by someone in the chain of command, making reporting obviously difficult. Of the estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, only 3,000 were reported and 300 prosecuted.

McCaskill argues that other countries that have taken similar steps to remove reporting from the chain of command have not seen an uptick in reporting. McCaskill’s bill ensures that when a case is reported, if either or both the commander or prosecutor don’t want to proceed, the case is referred to the head of that military branch for review. Under Gillibrand’s bill, a case ends if a prosecutor doesn’t wish to move forward. McCaskill’s bill also gets rid of the “good soldier” defense that takes into account irrelevant factors such as the service record of the accused. In cases where there is a dual jurisdiction–if say, a crime was committed off of a military base–the victim would get a say in whether the case would be handled in a civilian or military court. Importantly, given the number of reported sexual assaults in the nation’s Air Force and Naval Academies, the measure also extends protections to students in service academies. Finally, it requires that in every promotion, a commander’s record on handling of sexual-assault cases gets taken into account.

Victim’s groups were disappointed with the outcome, expressing doubt that after years of promises the Pentagon needed a sea change in order to really address the issue. “Service members deserve a professional and unbiased justice system equal the system afforded to the civilians they protect. It is a travesty that this very practical, conservative measure, supported by a substantial majority of the Senate and 60% of Americans was blocked by a procedural filibuster,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect our Defenders, said of Gillibrand’s bill. “We may have lost this battle due to political maneuverings, but effective reform will be accomplished. It is only a matter of time. We will redouble our efforts to secure the legal rights of American servicemen and women who have been sexually abused while serving their country.”

TIME sexual assault in the military

McCaskill Set to Win the Battle on Sexual Assault in the Military

Sens. McCaskill And Ayotte Discuss Additional Measures To Curb Sexual Assaults In Military on February 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

A proposal by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill that addresses military sexual assaults -- in which a reported case is referred to the head of that military branch for review-- is poised to beat ones from other Senators, but at a steep cost

At the end of June on a stormy summer evening, the 20 Senate women gathered in the ceremonial Appropriations Committee hearing room in the U.S. Capitol to privately debate competing proposals to address sexual assault in the military. The hope was that all 20 women could unite behind a single bill. But that was never to be.

At the meeting, the women heard from the three in the midst of the debate, all of whom had served as prosecutors: North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill. McCaskill, who made her name prosecuting rape cases that others wouldn’t touch, was particularly passionate in promoting her bill. “I have more experience prosecuting sexual assault cases than anyone in the Senate. I have spent more time holding the hands of rape victims,” she told the women, according to several sources who were in the room. “This bill does not let anyone off easy.”

But 17 of the 20 women signed on to a competing measure sponsored by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. That measure failed to overcome a filibuster last week. The Senate Monday afternoon is expected to vote on McCaskill’s bill. It is expected to pass overwhelmingly.

The key difference between the two measures is that Gillibrand’s bill would have taken the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and given it to the Judge Advocates General Corps. Gillibrand argues than roughly a quarter of all sexual assault cases are perpetrated by someone in the chain of command, making reporting obviously difficult. Of the estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, only 3,000 were reported and 300 prosecuted.

McCaskill argues that other countries that have taken similar steps to remove reporting from the chain of command have not seen an uptick in reporting. McCaskill’s bill ensures that when a case is reported, if either or both the commander or prosecutor don’t want to proceed, the case is referred to the head of that military branch for review. Under Gillibrand’s bill a case ends if a prosecutor doesn’t wish to move forward. McCaskill’s bill also gets rid of the “good soldier” defense that takes into account irrelevant factors such as the service record of the accused. In cases where there is a dual jurisdiction–if say, a crime was committed off of a military base–the victim would get a say in whether the case would be handled in a civilian or military court. Importantly, given the number of reported sexual assaults in the nation’s Air Force and Naval Academies, the measure also extends protections to students in service academies. Finally, it requires that in every promotion, a commander’s record on the handling of sexual-assault cases would be taken into account.

As a whole, there is no doubt that the revisions constitute major updates to way the Pentagon handles the issue. Some politicians, such as California’s Barbara Boxer and Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, have been pushing for these reforms for decades. But victims’ groups worry that the Pentagon has made promises of change before, only not to follow through. They argue that only by giving the cases to an outside body will true change ever be effected.

To that end, Gillbirand says she will continue to push her measure, which has the support of 56 senators, in the years to come. Several senators who opposed Gillibrand’s bill last week said in the debate that they are waiting to see how the Pentagon handles the issue and if nothing changes, they would be willing to support Gillibrand’s bill in the future.

Meanwhile, McCaskill chafes at the perception that she is somehow protecting rapists or that her bill is weaker. “The most frustrating thing about this,’’ McCaskill told the Washington Post, “is the narrative that, ‘Whose side are you on, the victim’s or the commander’s?’ That’s offensive.”

At the end of that meeting last June, all 20 women agreed that if they couldn’t agree on a bill, it was important not to demonize one bill or another and to keep the conversation civil. The ensuing nine months have tried the bounds of the female senators’ friendships and civility. That said, most if not all of the women are expected to back McCaskill’s bill on Monday. “We’re now 20 women total in the Senate,” says Mikulski, the dean of the Senate women. “We disagree on some issues, even the bills before us. But we agree on the goal of providing more prosecutorial tools to punish criminals, ensuring fairness in the process and getting help to victims.”

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