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The Hill - House Starts Defense Authorization Work Amid Dem Anger Over Sexual Assault Amendments

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By Pete Kasperowicz

Members of the House on Thursday voted in favor of a rule that allows a marathon session of debate and votes on 172 amendments to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The House voted 238-189 in favor of the rule, after which members were to start considering changes to the bill, likely until late into the night. Only eight Democrats voted for the rule.

But Democrats made it clear during the rule debate that they are not satisfied with the rule on the issue of sexual assault in the military. Earlier this morning, the House Rules Committee approved a rule that does not allow a vote on a proposal to take decisions to prosecute criminal cases away from military commanders, or take sexual assault cases away from these commanders.

"Because these and some other important issues amendments were not in the rule, I must reluctantly vote against it," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) added that not considering these amendments prevents "critical debate" on how to deal with rising sexual assaults in the Armed Forces.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who proposed language taking sexual abuse cases outside the military's chain of command, asked why the House cannot debate her language on the floor.

"What's wrong with taking up an amendment with over a quarter of the membership of this House on the floor in what is supposed to be an open debate on this issue?" she asked.

She was answered only indirectly, by Republicans who said the bill strengthens language on sexual assault, and that a handful of amendments on this issue will be considered.

"We have taken away from the commander the ability to set aside a conviction for sexual assault, and we've added mandatory minimums, so that if you commit a sexual assault, you are out of the military," Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said. "If there is an inappropriate relationship between a trainee and a trainer, you're out of the military."

Turner added that he objects to proposals that would create a separate judicial system within the military to prosecute sexual abuse cases.

"The judicial system hasn't been the failure, the chain of command has been the failure," he said. "And we have addressed that by restricting the authority of the chain of command, by requiring decisions to be pushed up the chain of command."

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