Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) speaks to the news media about...

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) speaks to the news media about her bill to revamp the military justice system in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Graeme Sloan

WASHINGTON — New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday demanded a stand-alone, up-or-down vote on her measure to revamp the military justice system after it was cut from the final National Defense Authorization Act in closed-door negotiations.

The Senate is poised to approve the $768 billion defense policy bill, referred to as the NDAA, after the House overwhelmingly passed it Tuesday after a bipartisan deal was struck by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees.

"The majority of our colleagues have recognized that our bill has the support of a bipartisan filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a majority in the House," Gillibrand said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"But the will of those members was ignored in the NDAA when committee leaders stripped out reforms from the bill behind closed doors, despite assurances that they would follow regular order," Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand's bill has the support of 66 senators, and a similar House measure has 220 bipartisan sponsors.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, on which Gillibrand serves, approved the NDAA version that included her measure by a vote of 23-3.

But the measure was removed in a conference committee, in which the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees reconciled differences between the two chambers’ versions of the must-pass bill.

Earlier this year, Gillibrand warned that her military justice measure could be stripped from the final NDAA by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I do not have faith that he will protect the legislation if it does, in fact, get passed in the House and in the Senate," Gillibrand told Newsday in a telephone interview in June.

"My experience over the last several years working on this issue has been that if the chairman opposes any measure, or if the Department of Defense opposes any measure, it is often taken out in conference," she said.

Reed did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

He told Newsday in June that he acts based on "trying to do the right thing for the men and women in service."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both back Gillibrand’s bill. But Schumer has indicated he’s reluctant to overrule a senior committee chairman.

In a statement responding to a Newsday query, Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said Schumer "supports Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Act and is working hard to pass it."

The pending NDAA does include changes in the military justice system, including empowerment of an independent special victim prosecutor for sexual assault, rape, murder and domestic violence involving military personnel.

"But under this NDAA, the commander remains the convening authority, a central role to the military justice system," Gillibrand said.

She argued that an independent military justice system would be fairer to both the accused and the service member filing a complaint.

"Commanders can still pick the jury, select the witnesses, grant or deny witness immunity requests, border depositions and approve the hiring of expert witnesses and consultants," she said.

Commanders also can allow the accused to quit instead of facing a court-martial, Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand objected to what could be seen as "pink courts" that would marginalize women.

She also said independent military courts would better serve minority service members.

At the end of the day Wednesday, Gillibrand took to the Senate floor to request a vote on her legislation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) objected, blocking her motion.

It was her 22nd try.

From May 24 through July 19, Gillibrand asked for unanimous consent from her Senate colleagues to debate and vote on her legislation 21 times.

Each time, Reed or another senator objected.

Gillibrand said she would continue to try for an up-or-down vote.

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