Claire Underwood’s proposal fails in real-life Senate

Sen. Gillibrand

Sen. Gillibrand

OK, technically, it wasn’t the fictional Mrs. Underwood’s plan. It was pushed instead by the real-life Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who, as tacky as it may be in the context of talking about sexual crimes (but it’s true), is also a rather striking blonde.

A more relevant coincidence is that her proposal was the very same one that caused the majority whip to stop the Underwood bill on “House of Cards.” To wit, according to The Washington Post:

The Senate rejected a controversial proposal Thursday to remove military commanders from decisions on whether to prosecute major crimes in the ranks as the concerns of Pentagon leaders trumped calls from veterans groups to dramatically overhaul how the Defense Department handles assault and rape cases.

Congress has already voted to revamp the military’s legal system by ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.

But on Thursday senators rejected a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would go further by taking away from military commanders the power to refer serious crimes to courts-martial. The decision would shift instead to professional military trial lawyers operating outside the chain of command.

The proposal fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle and proceed to a final vote. In a reflection of the complexity of the issue, 10 Democrats voted against Gillibrand’s plan, while 11 Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — joined her in voting to proceed….

I think the Senate acted wisely. It moved to toughen the law without undermining the military system of justice. I realize the Underwood/Gillibrand approach has attracted growing support — witness how close it came today. But while I’d like to throw military rapists under the treads of an Abrams tank, I don’t think it’s right to take commanders out of the equation. In other words, I agree with the position taken by the fictional Jackie Sharp, and I really identified with her discomfort when she broke the news to Claire. Although it might have been easier for her, as a woman, to take that position than it would for a man.

I know I, for one, hesitate to voice it. But I thought it would be a copout to mention the issue without doing so….


The fictional Claire Underwood.

22 thoughts on “Claire Underwood’s proposal fails in real-life Senate

  1. Brad Warthen

    Yes, I knew someone would say that. But it’s not a logical argument. It doesn’t demonstrate a cause and effect.

    You could argue any change in the world, however absurd or unhelpful, and if I said I didn’t think it was a good idea, you could mock my objection by saying, “Oh, well it’s worked so well without doing that.”

    Yep, there are sexual assaults now, and you know what? There will still be sexual assaults if you undermine the chain of command. Changing the procedure won’t eliminate evil from the world. Some people will still do terrible things. Only we’d have the added bonus of eroding the military’s effectiveness in doing the things it’s supposed to do.

    The other measures the Senate approved seem to me more likely to address the serious problem of these crimes, without harming the military’s ability to do its job.

    1. Doug Ross

      The chain of command is frequently a hindrance to communication. Each level wants to shield the one above from bad news. This happens in any organization. By the time a message reaches the proper level, it has been massaged and filtered to lose most meaning.

      The military has a track record of doing a lousy job of policing its own. It’s based a lot on trying to perpetuate the image of the military as upstanding , heroic citizens.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, that’s all the U.S. military services are about, right — PR. Bunch of glory hogs, right? No redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Am I getting my mind right?

        Seriously, folks, I sense a good bit of hostility toward the military and what it stands for in the SOME of the insistence on making this change. And that bothers me a lot. I get a whiff of the attitude, “If we can take those strutting peacock warmongers down a notch or two, that’s just an added bonus.”

        1. Doug Ross

          Are you seriously going to try and tell us that the military doesn’t “close ranks” when bad news occurs? I don’t hate the military. I hate the military operations this country engages in.

          I am just not as enamored of the institution as you are. It’s a very large organization of men and women filled with people across the entire spectrum of ethical standards. The gung-ho attitude of some of them translates into a testosterone fueled belief that women are objects. It’s behavior you see in pretty much any male dominated system – fraternities, football locker rooms, Senate cloak rooms.

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        Brad, that is a cheap shot reduction of what Doug said.

        No sane, aware person can deny that humans generally care about how they are perceived (maybe not in the math department, but…) and in a situation where a wrong move can kill a career, even more so.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I wasn’t taking a “shot” at anybody. I was expressing a concern I have as I observe the way this issue has unfolded — not so much here on the blog, but out in the world.

          And you’re right — a wrong move can kill a career, and the military can be particularly unforgiving. If deliberately mishandling a sexual crime CAN’T end a career, then we need to make sure it will. And committing or aiding and abetting such a crime should put you in Leavenworth for a long, long time.

          And yes, as Doug says, the military is testosterone-charged. Lots and lots of young males, and not your less-aggressive young males, either. Which is why these crimes will occur, however conscientiously the military — or the rest of society — addresses it. We can’t give up; we have to keep trying, but however we try, there will not be a time when such crimes do not occur.

          The only way to prevent such crimes against women is to do something we can’t do — keep all male soldiers away from women. Historically, soldiers came into contact with women when they interacted with a civilian population — and plenty of rapes occurred (sometimes, in some societies, as an actual strategy of war). Now, they come into contact with women within their own ranks as well. The kind of male who would rape a woman is going to do it if he gets the chance. All we can do is indoctrinate the troops the best we can to act like civilized men, minimize the opportunities, and prosecute the crimes that occur to the fullest extent of the law.

          Even if you succeeded completely in keeping these males away from women (something that would be impossible in today’s military, but let’s just suppose), you would still have rapes — same-sex rapes, like in prison. Not because soldiers are such bad people, but because in any population, military or civilian, there is going to be a certain number of men who will commit such crimes on whatever victims are available to them. And the military draws from the portions of the male population who would be physically and psychologically more likely to be sexually aggressive — young, physically strong males.

          It sounds like I’m saying soldiers (male soldiers) are bad people — like I’m the one bad-mouthing the military. But I’m not. I’m saying that armies have historically dealt with young males. So much of traditional military discipline has been about taking an extremely firm hand to control the behavior of such people. So much about the culture of conditioning soldiers to follow orders from superiors without hesitation has been about controlling a demographic that doesn’t naturally have a lot of self-control, about imbuing them with a respect for discipline.

          And the chain of command is key to that.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Your shot at a response was cheap and reductionist, still.

          And all sexual assaults are not male on female….

          1. Pat

            Kathryn, you are absolutely correct: not all sexual assault is male on female – sometimes it is male on male and sometimes it is used as a method of intimidation, humiliation, and control. I can’t agree with Brad or John McCain or Lindsey Graham on this one. It should be removed from under the chain of command. It is a criminal accusation and should be treated by a separate entity. Actually, I should think the officers in charge would be relieved not to have to deal with it. And I don’t care how much testosterone is pulsating in our armed forces. The whole structure of military service is supposed to be infused with “I’ve got your back” and sexual assault undermines that. It should be hammered in their heads at boot camp and OCS and at the military academies and on a regular basis from then on. Prevention and establishment of a safe culture is a lot less trouble than what they’ve been dealing with.

    2. bud

      I’ll add my voice to Kathryn’s. The “chain of command” approach has utterly failed. Time to try a new approach.

  2. T.J.

    Yes Brad, there are sexual assaults now and previously. And no Brad, they have not been prosecuted/pursued properly under the chain of command approach to decisioning. The purpose is not to address the issue directly or change the world, as you say. It is to create accountability in the penalty for the behavior which would in turn change the behavior.

    And do you really think removing sexual crimes from outside the chain of command will somehow diminish the effectiveness of the military? It is a pretty silly argument at best. Notably, it is the same thing that was said about integration of the armed forces and the inclusion of women in the ranks of service members.

    Can you even dream up a scenario where having a professional military lawyer making the decision rather than a command officer ever have a negative impact? I would say that the converse is true. Removing the decision from the chain of command would eliminate the perception of bias, particularly between officers and the enlisted men and women.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m not following this at all: “Notably, it is the same thing that was said about integration of the armed forces and the inclusion of women in the ranks of service members.”

      WHAT was the same thing that was said? Because I can’t see the parallel…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      and perpetrators, many of whom are higher ups in the chain of command, or their buddies.

  3. T.J.

    Brad: “Only we’d have the added bonus of eroding the military’s effectiveness in doing the things it’s supposed to do”

    That was the argument against integration of the armed forces. It was the argument of excluding women. It was the argument for discharging homosexuals. I do not see that argument panning out very well.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    How about the added effectiveness of troops who do not expect that sexual assault is just part of the job?

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Yes. The incidence of sexual assault in the military is believed to be fairly high, and only the wilfully blind could ignore it. Of course, many think it cannot happen to them, but far more simply soldier on.

  5. Mab

    IME [in my experience], military lawyers have at their disposal among the finest machinery known to man, and they aim to please: cover it up, condone it, even encourage it — all imaginable atrocities.

    The abuse would simply ascend to its highest level of barbarism in the striking senator’s proposed system.

    Let the soldiers fight it out in the barracks. Justice will sooner find them.

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