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 pledging to 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.
Conservatives are hoping that 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 on banning critical race theory.
Now, 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 is 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.), considered to be a possible 2024 contender, also tweeted against the provision, declaring that “Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong and so do I.”
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.
The United States has not instituted a draft since the Vietnam War, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly stressed 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.
Last year, that commission recommended draft registration be expanded to include women, calling it a “necessary and fair step.”