Measure Requiring Women to Register for Draft Left Out of House Defense Bill

Maj. Gen. John S. Kem delivers the oath of enlistment to 25 future soldiers in a ceremony at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Maj. Gen. John S. Kem, U.S. Army War College commandant, delivers the oath of enlistment to 25 future soldiers in a ceremony at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, June 12, 2020. (Sarah Zale/U.S. Army)

A bipartisan group of House members expressed support Thursday for a measure that would require women to register with selective service, but the proposal to include it in the chamber's national defense bill was withdrawn for procedural reasons.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former Air Force captain, raised an amendment to include the recommendations of a congressional commission on national service in America, to include requiring women to participate in the draft registration system.

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The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service released a report in March containing 164 recommendations on service in America, addressing educational opportunities and civics to volunteerism and public service through nonprofit and governmental organizations, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, Peace Corps and the military services.

In introducing her amendment, Houlahan said she hoped the House Armed Services Committee -- and eventually all of Congress -- will have the opportunity to consider the recommendations, including requiring women to participate in selective service.

"This committee needs to seriously consider the merits of these recommendations. Women can and do contribute to our armed forces, just as much as their men counterparts," Houlahan said.

The commission looked at the role of public service in America and weighed whether the Selective Service System should be abolished, given that the U.S. abandoned the draft in 1973.

But ultimately, it decided that the system should remain intact and include both women and men, who currently are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

The commission also made recommendations on the steps the federal government could take to expand public service and foster a desire to help others and contribute to society.

Several committee members from both sides of the aisle expressed support for the commission's recommendations.

Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, an Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who, along with Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, cosponsored the amendment, said he couldn't think of "anything more important that the committee could do "than help foster a sense of service in America's youth."

"Whether its military or national public service, one of the often overlooked aspects -- particularly in these times that the country is going through now -- whether you are building a home for Habitat for Humanity or fighting in a foxhole, you do it with people that don't look like you, that don't come from the same backgrounds. You learn to share those experiences [and learn] leadership, followership, discipline, teamwork," Waltz said.

The commission was created out of debate in Congress as to whether women should register for the draft. In 2017, after all combat positions were opened to women the previous year, two then-members of the House Armed Service Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, both military veterans who opposed the change, introduced a bill to require women to register for the draft.

The bill passed the committee 32-30, but the measure, introduced simply to make a point (Hunter voted against it), didn't make it into the final version of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

Neither of those sponsors remain in Congress: Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison for misusing campaign funds and Zinke left to become the Secretary of the Interior under President Donald Trump. He resigned from that position while under investigation for land deals and use of his personal email for government business.

With the scope of the national commission's recommendations being so broad, they cross the oversight and jurisdiction of many congressional committees besides the House Armed Services Committee -- the reason Houlahan withdrew the amendment before a vote.

She said she hoped the committee would hold a hearing in the coming months to consider the draft recommendation.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, chairwoman of the HASC personnel subcommittee, promised such deliberations.

"I think the time has come. I have always been of a belief that we won't have true equality in this country until women have a seat at the table and contribute to national service," Speier said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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