Ed O’Keefe has a nice brief piece in the Washington Post on the growing influence of the record twenty women in the U.S. Senate, and how they’re driving the debate on how to address the problem of sexual assaults in the military. They’ve already driven a consensus on a host of important and useful reforms that will be included in this year’s annual Defense Appropriations bill, but there is a split over whether or not to strip commanders completely of their discretion in referring sexual assault cases and accepting the outcomes of any resulting trials. Seventeen of the female senators are in the camp that would take that discretion away, while Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Deb Fischer (R-NE) are aligned with Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MO) and the neo-conservative faction that opposes that reform.

The issue doesn’t break down along predictable partisan lines. Tea Party lunatics Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY), for example, are siding with the majority of the women, all but two of whom are Democrats. I believe this is just one more demonstration of the split that exists on national security issues between old school neo-cons like John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and the emerging libertarian wing of the GOP.

In any case, I’ve long felt and written that getting more women in Congress is an end in itself that will lead to more progressive governance even if some of the individual women are quite conservative on most things. In this case, the four Republican female senators are split, with Sens. Ayotte and Fischer on one side and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on the other. Meanwhile, Sen. McCaskill is the only one of sixteen Democratic women who is siding with the neo-cons. The total effect of having twenty female senators is that the culture of the military will be shifted in a way it never would have been back when you could count the women in the Senate on one hand. That feat has already been baked in the cake, and all that remains to be seen is how far the reforms will go.

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