New Montana senator could boost Gillibrand’s military sex assault bill

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Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who was confirmed by the Senate this afternoon as the new ambassador to China, likely will be replaced in the next few days by someone who supports legislation that would let military lawyers decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases in the armed forces.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the author of the bill, says she’s close to the 60 votes she needs for Senate passage when the legislation comes to the floor next week.
Baucus has never said publicly how he would vote on Gillibrand’s bill.
The person most likely to be named by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to replace Baucus in the Senate is Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who is running for Baucus’ seat in the November election.
Walsh, an Iraq War veteran who served in the Montana National Guard for 33 years, wrote a column in December expressing support for Gillibrand’s approach to addressing the problem of sexual assaults in the military.
Bullock has not said whom he intends to appoint as an interim senator and an announcement is not expected before Friday.
But it makes sense from a party standpoint that he would appoint Walsh. Bullock is a Democrat who already has won in a statewide election, and keeping the Senate seat in Democratic hands would help prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate in the November election.
Gillibrand has 53 senators on record as supporting her bill, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who could delay a vote on her legislation until after Montana’s newest senator is sworn in.
Gillibrand says some undecided senators are leaning toward supporting her bill. She expects the vote to be very close.

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