Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft

Conservatives have a new target in the culture wars: requiring women to register for the draft.

The Senate Armed Services Committee included in its version of the annual defense policy bill a provision that would require women to register with the Selective Service System, the agency in charge of administering the draft if the United States ever imposes one again.

Conservative senators are vowing a fight when the bill moves to the floor and through negotiations with the House, but even the top Republican on the committee concedes it is likely a losing battle since Republicans are split on the issue.

Still, conservatives, including several seen as potential future presidential contenders, are betting appeals against “drafting our daughters” will resonate with their base.

The fight over expanding selective service registration to include women is a redux of several years ago. But the latest iteration comes as Republicans have leaned into cultural issues as part of their electoral strategy, including roping the military into their effort to ban critical race theory.

And some of the same conservative firebrands who have taken up the critical race theory fight are turning their attention to the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make women register for the draft.

“Our military has welcomed women for decades and are stronger for it. But America’s daughters shouldn’t be drafted against their will. I opposed this amendment in committee, and I’ll work to remove it before the defense bill passes,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), seen as a potential 2024 White House hopeful.

A source familiar with Cotton’s thinking told The Hill he is still figuring out the exact approach to take but will likely work to remove the provision during the conference process between the Senate and House, which is expected to include a similar requirement in its own version of the bill.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), similarly seen as a possible 2024 contender, also tweeted against the provision, saying that “Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong and so do I.”

“I imagine there’ll be an amendment offered on the floor. I think you’ll probably get a number of Republicans to join that amendment,” Hawley told The Hill when asked about his strategy going forward. “We shouldn’t be conscripting women against their will.”

“I think it’ll be a pretty big issue,” Hawley added. “It’s the leading reason I voted no on the NDAA as a whole, so I think it’ll be a pretty big issue.”

But just five of 13 Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee voted against the provision during the panel’s closed-door consideration of the bill.

When it came time to approving the bill as a whole, Hawley and Cotton were the only Republicans on the committee to vote against it.

And one of the five who opposed the amendment about the draft, committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said this past week he does not anticipate a big fight over the issue as the NDAA moves through the legislative process.

“I don’t think we will because we’re split,” Inhofe told The Hill when asked whether Republicans will put up a fight over the draft when the bill comes to the floor and goes through conference. “Judging from the response we’re getting behind closed doors, I don’t think we will.”

Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said he “would not be surprised” if an amendment is offered to remove the provision when the NDAA comes to the floor.

But, he added, there’s “strong support … on both sides of the aisle and I think among the American public” to keep it in.

The United States has not instituted a draft since the Vietnam War, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they intend to keep the force all-volunteer.

But men ages 18 through 25 still have to register with the Selective Service System or face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing the expectation Congress would soon act on the issue.

Congress has been debating whether to make women register for selective service since the Obama administration opened all combat jobs to women in late 2015, rending moot the previous rationale for excluding women from the draft.

The following year, both the House and Senate Armed Services committees included a requirement for women to register in their initial versions of the NDAA.

But the House’s version of the NDAA dropped the language before the bill came to the floor. After conservatives pushed to exclude the language during conference negotiations, the version of the NDAA that ultimately became law in 2016 instead created a commission to review the draft registration requirements.

Last year, that commission recommended draft registration be expanded to include women, calling it a “necessary and fair step.”

In 2016, Cotton voted against the provision in the Senate Armed Services Committee but did not co-sponsor an amendment to remove it when the NDAA was on the Senate floor, nor did he sign a letter more than a dozen Republicans sent during conference negotiations calling for the provision to be removed.

Cotton’s spokeswoman, Caroline Tabler, denied he is being more vocal this time for political reasons, saying the senator’s “position is the same in 2021 as it was in 2016; he’s opposed to it.”

News that this year’s NDAA would revive the requirement for women to register lit up conservative advocates.

Trump administration budget chief Russell Vought, who now runs a conservative think tank, responded to a news story about the provision by tweeting, “No. You are not drafting our daughters.”

Jessica Anderson, another Trump administration alum who is now the executive director at conservative advocacy group Heritage Action, similarly tweeted this past week, “Don’t draft our daughters.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another potential 2024 candidate who while campaigning for president in 2016 said it would be “nuts” to make women register for the draft, told The Hill this past week he thinks “it is one of the many ways Washington is out of touch that we’re seeing legislation move forward to draft our daughters.”

“I would certainly support an amendment to remove it,” he added. “The military is home to many proud fighting women and men, but that is a voluntary choice, and it is altogether different to forcibly conscript our daughters and put them into harm’s way, and I think that is out of touch with the American people.”

Complicating matters for those who want to remove the provision is that in addition to Republicans who support it, some anti-war Republicans would rather do away with the draft altogether.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, recently signed a letter with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) calling for the abolishment of Selective Service.

“I think it’s mostly an act of submission,” Paul said of registering for the draft. “It’s not really used. The government’s already got your Social Security number. It’s mostly just saying you’ll submit to the will of the government to send you to war.”

Asked whether he’ll offer an amendment to abolish the draft, Paul told The Hill, “We haven’t really gotten there yet.”

Still, Paul, who frequently holds up consideration of bills in an effort to force votes on his amendments, acknowledged that “a lot of times they don’t take amendments” on the NDAA.

Tags Culture Wars Jack Reed James Inhofe Josh Hawley Military Draft Peter DeFazio Rand Paul Rodney Davis Ron Wyden Selective Service System Ted Cruz Tom Cotton Women in the military
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