Marco Rubio Supporting CASA, A Campus Sex Assault Bill, Sets Him Apart From Other Republican Candidates

Refusing to budge on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal or amnesty for undocumented workers hasn’t exactly gained Senator Marco Rubio many likability points. But the Florida senator's support of a bill to address sexual assaults on college campuses may help the presidential hopeful gain support from both women and a few hard-line Republicans in the Senate. Rubio is one of the few Republican co-sponsors of CASA, the federal Campus Accountability and Safety Act.

Rubio appeared at a February press conference with the bill’s co-sponsors, which include Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The bill would create one uniform process for student disciplinary proceedings and no longer allow sub-groups — like a school’s athletic department or Greek organization — to have their own process for handling sexual assault cases. The bill would also extend the amount of time sexual assault victims have to file a case with the Department of Education.

“We want survivors of this process to be able to avail themselves of the processes that exist and that protect them and make them confident in coming forward, as opposed to keeping it to themselves,” Rubio said during the press conference.

Additional reforms in the bill include requiring the Department of Education to make public the names of all schools with pending federal investigations on possible violations of Title IV requirements on sexual violence.

Legislation addressing women’s rights issues often face partisan stumbling blocks in Congress, as seen in previous years with bills to address sexual assault in the military or reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network tells Bustle the tide may have turned for addressing how sexual assaults are handled on college campuses.

“There’s an understanding that this really shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Berkowitz told Bustle.

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Neither Ted Cruz (R-TX) nor Rand Paul (R-KY)— the two other sitting senators with whom Rubio is competing with for the Republican party’s nomination —have taken a position on CASA yet. Both Cruz and Paul were supporters of Gillibrand's bill to make it easier to prosecute sexual assault in the military. Coming out in support of the bill puts Rubio in the same company as members of the Republican old-guard, such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as well as more moderate Republicans such as Sens. Kelly Ayotte of Alaska and Dean Heller of Nevada.

Supporting a campus sexual assault bill may also help Rubio gain favor among female voters. According to results of a Quinnipiac University poll released on April 9, more female voters in Colorado, Virginia and Iowa picked Hillary Clinton over Rubio for president. Even in Colorado — where Rubio leads Clinton by a single percentage point—he only has 35 percent of the female vote.

According to Berkowitz, Rubio’s motives for sponsoring the legislation were pretty straightforward. “What [Rubio] expressed to me is that he thinks this is a huge national problem and that Congress both has the opportunity and the obligation to help fix it,” says Berkowitz.

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