Nation roundup for March 7
Senate blocks change to military sex cases
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute or prevent charges for alleged rapes and other serious offenses, capping an emotional, nearly yearlong fight over how to curb sexual assault in the ranks.
The vote was 55-45, short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Defeated but unbowed, the senator received hugs from Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., after the vote.
The Pentagon’s leadership vigorously opposed the measure, arguing that officers should have more responsibility, not less, for the conduct of the men and women they lead. Proponents of the bill insisted that far-reaching changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice are necessary to curb a scourge of rapes and sexual assaults. Under Gillibrand’s proposal, the decision to take serious crimes to courts-martial would be given to military trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and would operate out of a newly established office independent of the chain of command.
Gillibrand’s effort bitterly divided the Senate in a battle that smashed conventional lines on gender and political party.
Conservative Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky backed her effort, while the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, opposed the measure.
General pleads guilty, might face 15 years
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — In his immaculate blue dress uniform, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the U.S. Army’s small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair, 51, still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex. But by pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair’s lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected Friday.
Asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice: “Yes sir.”
Pohl accepted Sinclair’s plea after nearly three hours of detailed and often intimate questions about the married general’s flirtations and dalliances with four women — three military officers and one civilian. Repeatedly, Sinclair turned to his lawyer before answering, prompting the judge to say: “It’s important that you tell me the truth as you recall it.”
House backs bill to block power plant rule
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House moved Thursday to block President Barack Obama’s plan to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, an election-year strike at the White House aimed at portraying Obama as a job killer.
Ten coal-state or Southern Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the bill, 229-183. Supporters said the measure was part of a strategy to fight back against what they call the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
Obama’s proposal, a key part of his plan to fight climate change, would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants.
A measure sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set carbon emissions standards based on technology that has been in use for at least a year. Republicans and some coal-state Democrats say the EPA rule is based on carbon-capturing technology that does not currently exist.
Whitfield, chairman of a House subcommittee on energy and power, called the power plant proposal “one of the most extreme regulations of the Obama administration.”
adding that it would “make it impossible to build a new coal-fired power plant in America.”
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., denounced the measure as “a science-denial bill” that would strip the EPA of its ability to block carbon pollution. Waxman and other Democrats said the bill was a blatant attempt to thwart the EPA and villify the Obama administration in an election year.
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