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Blunt joins McCaskill in Senate debate over military sexual assault cases

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Missouri’s two U.S. senators – Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt – disagree on many issues, such as the Affordable Care Act.  But the two are finding themselves on the same side on a number of military matters, including how best to address sexual assault.

On Wednesday, Blunt took to the Senate floor to speak in favor of McCaskill’s proposal to revamp the military process in sexual assault cases. Her plan – backed by the Pentagon -- differs from that of a rival Democrat, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, who has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

McCaskill’s proposal would leave sexual assault cases within the change of command, although other changes would be made. Gillibrand would shift oversight of such cases to military prosecutors and remove commanders’ jurisdiction.

The dueling proposals were before the full Senate on Wednesday, with a possible evening vote.

The teaming of McCaskill and Blunt is significant, since both sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Missouri and New Hampshire are the only states with both of their senators on the influential committee. But it's unclear if Blunt's backing means that other Republicans will back McCaskill's measure as well.

Blunt avoided any criticism of Gillibrand while praising McCaskill’s approach.  His main message was that sexual assault was an issue that the military could not ignore.

McCaskill, meanwhile, reaffirmed her assertion that her approach was the best way to help sexual assault victims and punish their assailants. She contends that military prosecutors may be more reluctant to prosecute cases than some commanders

The two also are on the same side when it comes to preserving the A-10 aircraft, which is used by the Reserve 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base near Kansas City.

Blunt introduced a bill, along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to curb the Air Force’s ability to retire the A-10 until the replacement aircraft, the A-35, is fully operational and has been produced in sufficient numbers.  McCaskill is among the co-sponsors and co-signed a joint statement.

McCaskill's spokesman said Wednesday that she and Blunt “very often agree, and work closely together, when it comes to Armed Services Committee work (and, when it comes to issues affecting Missouri specifically as well). They have a very good working relationship.”

Said Blunt in a statement: "Missouri has a vital role in the defense of our country, and I’m pleased to work with Sen. McCaskill on the Armed Services Committee to ensure our military men and women have the resources they need,” Blunt said “The Department of Defense must have effective measures to combat sexual assault in the military. I support Sen. McCaskill’s amendment, which passed out of the Armed Services Committee, and I thank her for her work on this important issue."

On the matter of sexual assault in the military, McCaskill’s spokesman added that Blunt sided with McCaskill on the committee’s votes earlier this year in favor of her proposal, and in rejecting Gillibrand’s amendment.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.