The Buzz

March 11, 2014

Claire McCaskill shuffles the deck

The Missouri Democrat brings a “House of Cards” plot line to the Senate floor on the military sexual assault bill.

The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

I finished watching the second season of “House of Cards” over the weekend. It was pretty good.

Sure, there are a few outlandish plot twists that are impossible in real life. At one point, vice president Frank Underwood actually suggests there’s good barbecue in Washington, a jolting reminder that you’re watching fiction.

But there are enough ripped-from-the-headlines episodes to interest even the casual viewer. A major storyline in the second season, for example, involves a fierce legislative debate over prosecuting military sexual assaults.

No spoilers here. We don’t really need them, since this issue played out in real life: last week, at the urging of Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the Senate defeated a bill aimed at taking sexual assault prosecutions away from military commanders and giving them to civilians.

McCaskill’s alternative, which keeps commanders in the prosecutorial loop, easily passed the Senate Monday.

In “House of Cards,” all motives are suspect: ambition, fear, and jealousy simmer with money, power, and sex as part of a dramatic bouillabaisse. Because real politics can be equally murky, outsiders spent much of last week trying to understand why McCaskill became so deeply invested in a particular remedy for the military’s sexual assault epidemic.

Was she opposing the ascendance of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a rising party star and the sponsor of the civilian prosecution model? Not likely. It’s hard to imagine a job Gillibrand wants that McCaskill would covet. And, as a political matter, Gillibrand’s hard-fought loss actually gives her a boost with core Democratic groups, to McCaskill’s potential detriment.

Is McCaskill pursuing an image as a deal-making moderate? Maybe. Her alternative passed the Senate 97-0, the very definition of consensus. Because she opposed a majority of her own caucus on Gillibrand’s bill, McCaskill’s bipartisan

bona fides

grew.

But we don’t know for sure if McCaskill wants another term from red state Missouri. So enhancing her moderate image may not fully explain why her effort was so visible. Why

lead

the filibuster against Gillibrand? To make the generals happy? Not many votes there.

A personal feud? The issue seems too important for cloakroom jealousies.

That leaves one alternative: McCaskill sincerely thought her approach was better.

That seems about right. Even “House of Cards” allows its characters an occasional burst of idealism.

It actually praises DC barbecue, for example. Which, in the real world, isn’t worth

any votes.

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