Two high-profile conservative Republican senators are joining a push to remove the military chain of command from considering allegations of sexual assault in the ranks.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Tuesday formally signed on to a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would establish a new system to prosecute sex assault cases in the military.
"I always thought the motive for the bill was good, but now I think the bill is even stronger and I see no reason why conservatives shouldn’t support this," Paul said at a news conference.
The proposal is considered the most aggressive solution to the rise of sexual assaults in the military and was rejected last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But with the Senate poised to begin consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act as soon as next week, Gillibrand has been seeking at least 51 co-sponsors for her proposal in order to force debate on the plan in the full Senate, according to aides.
In recent weeks during debate and votes on the Senate floor over other issues, Gillibrand has been spotted talking to senators of both parties in hopes of garnering sufficient support.
Paul and Cruz join other Democrats and Republicans in co-sponsoring the measure and will lend notable tea party backing to the cause. Their support also guarantees that the cause will pick up renewed attention in conservative circles.
In addition, with Paul, Cruz and Gillibrand often mentioned as future presidential contenders -- and thus future potential commanders in chief -- the trio will likely earn special attention for their advocacy.
Military leaders expressed strong opposition to Gillibrand's proposal at a historic Senate hearing in early June that brought every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top military law enforcement officials together on Capitol Hill at the same time.
During the hearing, top brass for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard argued that removing top military commanders from consideration of sexual assault cases would severely jeopardize unit cohesion and the chain of command.
Several older, more experienced senators with closer ties to the military on the panel agreed with the commanders and voted against Gillibrand's proposal during a later hearing. But each senator on the committee also took turns admonishing the commanders for failing to properly track, investigate and prosecute serious allegations of abuse and harassment.
News of Cruz and Paul's co-sponsorship was first reported early Tuesday by Politico.
Updated at 12:07 p.m.