For the victims of sexual assault in the military, and all those who want to finally see real transformational change made within the broken military justice system, it was extremely disappointing when The Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), our bipartisan legislation to achieve this goal, was removed from the annual Defense Bill last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Our legislation creating an independent and objective military justice system is not only common sense, it is what all the victims have told us is required to end this crisis.
I was outraged by the news earlier this week that the coordinator of the Army's program to prevent sexual assault at Fort Hood in Texas is under investigation for abusive sexual contact. This follows last week's revelation that the officer tasked with preventing sexual assault in the Air Force had been arrested for assaulting a woman in a parking lot. It is hard to believe this was the second such incident in just over a week. All of this comes as the Pentagon released its own study showing a dramatic increase in sexual assaults and unwanted sexual contact in the military from 19,000 in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. Even more concerning: only 3,374 of those cases were reported, and less than 10% of those were brought to trial.
Tonight, Mark Sanford won the GOP run-off in the SC-01 special election and will face off against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch on May 7. My Off The Sidelines PAC is all in for Elizabeth and I hope you'll join me in supporting this fantastic candidate.
Elizabeth has been off the sidelines and involved in her community for years, having founded the Executive Board of Directors of Charleston Women in International Trade as well as serving as Chair of the Maritime Association Port of Charleston, among other positions. I'm thrilled that this year, Elizabeth has decided to add Congressional candidate to her list of achievements, and with your help, we'll be sending her to Washington, D.C. very soon.
This past Sunday, it was an honor and privilege to stand alongside Rep. John Lewis and so many other civil rights heroes as we marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It was only 48 years ago that Rep. Lewis led this march as a civil rights leader and risked his own life so that no American would ever again be denied the fundamental and precious right to vote. The march on that "Bloody Sunday" in 1965 became a turning point in the fight for voting rights.
But as inspiring as it was to re-enact that march, it is deeply troubling that in 2013, our work is not done and the need to continue this fight remains. According to NYU's Brennan Center For Justice, since 2011, 25 laws restricting voting rights have passed at the state level. These laws, ranging from imposing prohibitive voter ID requirements to reducing early vote periods, were passed by Republican legislatures and signed by Republican governors in the name of election integrity, even though there's no evidence of the sort of widespread voter fraud these laws purport to curb. And it's no accident that these laws are hitting the young, elderly and minorities the hardest.
From Tucson, to Aurora, to Oak Creek, Wisc., to Sandy Hook Elementary School, there seems to be a never ending series of mass tragedies at the hands of madmen with guns.
But as New Yorkers know all too well, while these shootings may get the bulk of the news coverage, the gun violence doesn't stop once those cameras go away. The sad fact is that approximately 34 people die every single day across this nation due to gun violence.
In New York City alone, just last week, the NYPD suffered one of its bloodiest nights when three officers suffered gunshot wounds, in two separate crimes, just an hour apart. We are all thankful these heroes are on their way to recovery.
Almost one year ago, NYPD Officer Peter Figoski, the father of four beautiful daughters, was tragically killed in the line of duty.
And I will never forget the faces of the parents of slain 17-year-old honor student Nyasia Pryear-Yard, whom I met just weeks after being sworn in to the Senate.
One thing all of these shootings have in common: the guns used all came up "the Iron pipeline" from out-of-state.
As I've traveled throughout New York, one of the concerns I hear most from my constituents is a deep frustration with those in Congress. They feel that Washington is broken and unable to do the job we were elected to do. If voters sent one message on Election Day, it was that they are desperate for their elected representatives to work together to get things done for the people who pay their salaries.
If we're going to continue to grow the economy, create jobs, reduce the deficit and accomplish all the things the American people expect of us, we simply must get Washington working again. Which is why I am a strong supporter of efforts to reform the filibuster.
This week was a historic election for women, both on the ballot and at the ballot box. Women knew what was at stake and showed up at the polls in 2008-level numbers, making up 53% of the electorate. Not only were women decisive in re-electing President Obama to a second term, but they helped usher in a record number of women into the halls of Congress.
In 2012, a record number of women were off the sidelines and running for Congress. 184 women were on the ballot on Tuesday and it's looking likely that we'll see women's representation in Congress rise from under 17% to almost 19% with a record 81 women elected to the House (and counting) and 20 elected to the U.S. Senate.
For so many Americans, this year’s elections represent a true turning point.
For our middle class and poor families, it’s about whether they’ll continue to have access to the American dream. For our seniors, it’s about whether they’ll have a guaranteed benefit they’ve paid into all their lives. And for our immigrants, it’s about whether we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform and allow so many of our immigrant youth to achieve a pathway to citizenship.
But in my opinion, there’s no group that will be impacted more by this election than women.
Despite being 51% of the population (and 53% of the voting population,) women currently make up just 17% of Congress, 23.6% of state legislatures and women hold just 6 governorships. Shockingly, the United States is 78th in the world when it comes to female representation in our federal government.
This is simply unacceptable and is one of the reasons I started Off The Sidelines as a call to action to women to become more engaged in politics and to make their voices heard on the issues they care about. The more women are engaged in their communities and the more women’s voices are heard, the more diverse the views that are represented and the better the outcomes will be for everyone. Getting more women to run for office is a crucial part of that. Which is why I’m thrilled we have a record number of women running for Congress this year.
Over the past two years, I’ve traveled throughout New York meeting with farmers and anti-hunger advocates to develop our priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill. Based on these conversations, I fought for and won several provisions in the bill such as improved crop insurance for fruit and vegetable farmers, rural broadband services to support small business development and grants and loan financing to build grocery stores in rural and urban food deserts.
These conversations also made it clear to me how important SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps is, not only to our struggling families who rely on these benefits to put food on their tables, but to farmers whose produce is being purchased by so many Americans at farmers markets and grocery stores using food stamps.
Today, I'm extremely pleased that President Obama has signed the STOCK Act into law to make it expressly illegal for members of Congress, their families and staff to trade on non-public information for their own financial gain. This is an important law that ensures members of Congress play by the same exact rules as everyone else and is a strong first step toward ensuring more accountability in Congress.
With poll after poll showing the American people's disapproval of Congress at a record high, it's my hope that the signing of this bill into law will help to begin to restore the trust the American people have in their elected leaders and in government as an institution. But that shouldn't be the end of our fight to reform Washington. There is much more we can do to make Congress more transparent and accountable to the American people to really restore people's trust in Congress again.
In recent weeks, I've said repeatedly that I was dumb-founded that in 2012 we are actually debating whether women should have access to contraception. I had no idea I’d be even more dumb-founded today, when, instead of coming together to fix our economy and strengthen the middle class, the Senate is considering a measure so extreme that it would allow any employer -– religious or secular –- to deny their employees coverage of any preventive service, including contraception, mammograms—anything the employer deems unfit to be covered.
Let me say this once and for all: the power to decide whether to use contraception or any other preventive care service should be up to each individual woman, not her boss.