By Rebecca Kheel - 02/02/16 02:02 PM EST
Women should be required to register for the draft if all combat jobs are going to be open to them, the top generals of the Marines and Army said Tuesday.
“Every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft,” Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think that all eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft,” he said.
The two made the remarks while testifying before the panel with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Under Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy on how to implement the landmark decision to open all combat jobs to women.
Murphy and Mabus were more hesitant on the issue, only saying there should be a debate about it.
“It should be a national debate, and I encourage the legislative body to look at that,” Murphy said.
But Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillMcCaskill: I wonder if people voting for Trump are embarrassed VA opposes bill aimed at helping vets in mustard gas experiments Blame game begins on Zika funding MORE (D-Mo.) concurred with the generals.
“Part of me believes that asking women to register as we ask men to register would maybe, possibly open up more recruits as women began to think about, ‘Well, the military is an option for me,’ ” she said. “I think it’s the right thing going forward.”
Late last year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced all military jobs would be open to both sexes with no exceptions, despite a request from the Marines to keep some closed. Carter’s decision raised the question of whether women would be required to register for the draft.
The Pentagon previously sidestepped the issue when asked about it, citing ongoing litigation.
The Selective Service System, as the draft is officially called, has been sued by the National Coalition for Men, which says it’s unfair to men, and a New Jersey teenager who says it’s discriminatory that she isn’t allowed to register.
Both lawsuits are working their way through the court system.
In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled women didn’t have to register because combat jobs were closed to them. Currently, most men in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the government and report to serve in the armed services if called. The last draft occurred during the Vietnam War.
At the hearing, Neller promised to carry out Carter’s order despite the Marines’ earlier opposition to it.
“The secretary of Defense has made his decision that we are not granting an exemption,” he said in response to Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedMcCain wants hearings on lifting of military's transgender ban McChrystal backs McCain's Pentagon reform proposal Overnight Defense: Biden hits Trump on national security | Dems raise pressure over refugees | Graham vows fight over spending caps MORE (D-R.I.). “I want every Marine to succeed, senator, so that is our goal.”
The Marines’ request exposed a rift between it and Mabus, who also oversees the Marines. Mabus had dismissed a study the service used to justify its request as flawed and biased.
“As I thoroughly examined the Marine Corps study, it was clear that the conclusions focused on the average performance of female Marines rather than on individual abilities,” he said Tuesday.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainWoman pushes Trump to ban Muslims from TSA McCain wants hearings on lifting of military's transgender ban Needed: a presidential candidate that can pass the ‘burning house test' MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee, slammed Mabus for his criticism of the study.
“So you, with a straight face, make claims that the Marines’ study was flawed and biased, even if you did not even go see the study being performed,” McCain said after Mabus said he didn’t observe the study firsthand.
McCain also directed ire toward the Pentagon more broadly.
“Put simply, I am concerned that the department has gone about things backwards,” he said. “This consequential decision was made and mandated before the military services could study its implications and before any implementation plans were devised to address the serious challenges raised in the studies.”
The military leaders testifying also sought to assuage concerns of those who believe opening all combat jobs to women will result in lower standards.
“You cannot lower standards,” Mabus said. “This is not about quotas. It’s not about equality of outcome. It’s about equality of opportunity. And you’ve got to keep those standards. You’ve got to keep them job-related. You’ve got to keep them very rigorous, and you’ve got to evolve those standards as our threats and as our challenges evolve. But they’ve got to evolve for everybody.”
Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineHispanics on Clinton's VP shortlist could help her win votes The Hill's 12:30 Report Clinton’s 9 most likely VP picks MORE (D-Va.) speculated that Carter’s decision will mean future generations of women will be more equipped to meet standards without them being lowered.
“Daughters raised today are going to be raised different than daughters 30 years ago,” he said. “When there’s a social cap or ceiling or limitation, that sort of gets absorbed by people and they don’t even focus on what they might be able to do.
“They get raised in a particular way, with the thought that that cap is going to be there. When the cap is lifted, all of a sudden there’s all kinds of possibilities and people start to focus on opportunities they might have and train themselves up for them.”