House panel backs making women register for draft

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The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday night approved an amendment requiring women to register for the draft.

The panel voted 35-24 to approve an amendment from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) that would strike references in the law requiring a “male citizen” register for the Selective Service System and replace it simply with “citizen.”

“By reforming the Selective Service to be gender-neutral based registration, we draw on the talents of our entire nation in the time of a national emergency,” Houlahan said. “The current male-only registration sends a message to women not only that they are not vital to the defense of the country, but also that they are not expected to participate in defending it.”

The vote during the House panel’s consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) came after the Senate Armed Services Committee similarly voted to expand draft registration requirements to women when it considered its version of the defense bill in July.

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 what’s officially known as the Selective Service System or face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college.

The idea of expanding registration requirements to include women has garnered bipartisan support in recent years, with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) arguing Wednesday that in the event of a draft the country would “need everybody … man, woman, gay, straight, any religion, black, white, brown.”

In addition to Waltz, GOP Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Jack Bergman (Mich.) and Patrick Fallon (Texas) voted with Democrats to support the amendment.

But some staunch conservatives have sought to pull the issue into their broader culture wars.

“We don’t need to draft women in order for women to have equality in this nation,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said Wednesday. “Women are of worth and of value right now, and we are equal with men without having to pass a new law that would require 50 percent of this country, our daughters and our sisters and our wives, to have to be drafted.”

Congress has been debating whether to expand the registration requirement to women since all combat jobs were opened to female service members in 2016.

That 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 bill dropped the language before the bill came to the floor. After conservatives pushed to exclude the language during negotiations between the House and Senate, the version of the NDAA that ultimately became law 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 June, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing the expectation that Congress would soon act on the issue.

Tags Liz Cheney Michael Waltz Vicky Hartzler
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