Congress to vote on women in the draft amid conservative opposition
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2016
WASHINGTON — Proposals to open up the military draft to women are now teed up for key votes in both chambers of Congress, moving the country closer to an historic shift in how it treats female combat service.
A Senate panel on Thursday passed a measure requiring women between 18-26 years old to register with Selective Service as part of the 2017 defense budget, which is now headed to the chamber floor for a vote. The House is expected to vote next week on a defense budget bill that also integrates the all-male draft system.
The military was ordered by the defense secretary in December to open all combat positions to women and the decision has sparked debate – and some opposition from Republican conservatives -- over the dormant draft, which requires all eligible men to register and be available for duty on the front lines of future wars.
The Senate Armed Services Committee said it “believes there is no further justification in limiting the duty to register under the Military Selective Service Act to men” after passing the defense budget bill called the National Defense Authorization Act.
Uniformed service leadership supports draft integration, the committee said. The chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had also voiced his support earlier this year.
The committee voted 23-3 to pass the massive defense bill to the full Senate. No date for a vote had been scheduled Friday.
Votes against the bill came from conservative members, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who has been a critic of the draft changes.
“This is a highly consequential -- and, for many American families, a deeply controversial -- decision that deserves to be resolved by Congress after a robust and transparent debate in front of the American people, instead of buried in an embargoed document that is passed every year to fund military pay and benefits,” Lee said in a released statement.
Former presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also spoke out against the measure and voted down the defense bill.
“I cannot in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat,” Cruz said in a release.
He said he will continue to speak out against it but did not indicate he will vote against the defense bill on the Senate floor.
The House could take its vote next week and the biggest challenge to integration could come from Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The chairman has mostly stayed neutral on the issue and opted for a slower approach. He is sponsoring an amendment to the defense budget bill that keeps women out of the Selective Service and instead calls for a study of the country’s military draft needs.
Some Republican conservatives in the House are hoping for a fight.
Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas, has also unveiled a proposal to strike the expansion of Selective Service from the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
He will be backed by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. Hunter, a Marine veteran, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., a retired Navy SEAL, have been trying to shoot down an integrated draft since earlier this year when they introduced the Draft America’s Daughters Act.
Hunter had hoped pressing the issue – and the reality of young women forced to fight on the front lines – would convince fellow Armed Services Committee members to rally in opposition.
Instead, the committee added the draft expansion into the defense bill and sent it to the floor.