Republican senators are heading off any attempts by their colleagues to include language requiring women to register for the draft in the annual defense policy bill.
In a letter Wednesday to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, eleven lawmakers led by Sen. Josh Hawley warned of solid opposition to “to force American women to register for the military draft.”
“Women have served in and alongside the Armed Forces since our nation’s founding,” the lawmakers wrote. “While American men are required to register for the military draft and fight if needed, these requirements have never been applied to American women. Where they have fought, they have done so freely.”
“This approach has served our nation well, and it retains broad bipartisan support,” they said.
Mr. Hawley, Missouri Republican, was joined in the letter by Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi, Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and James E. Risch of Idaho.
Including women in the military draft was a flashpoint last year when the House included it in the National Defense Authorization Act. Supporters noted the rising number of women already serving in the military and that virtually all military assignments, including combat jobs, are being filled by both sexes.
The measure exposed fissures in the Republican Party as the NDAA made its way through the House. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus called out fellow Republicans who refused to fight the change.
More moderate House Republicans said the language was not worth tanking the whole bill, which included several key wins for the GOP conference.
“Many of our constituents were shocked and concerned when they learned of these efforts to send American women to war against their will, and they asked us to do everything in our power to prevent the new requirement from becoming law,” the Senators wrote Wednesday.
Sen. Hawley last year introduced an 11th-hour amendment to strike the measure requiring women to sign up for the draft but it did not receive a Senate vote. The language was ultimately removed from the final bill in a House-Senate conference committee to finalize the legislation.
“We were pleased with that outcome, but we also believe it never should have gotten that far in the first place,” Mr. Hawley and his GOP colleagues wrote Wednesday. “Reviving these efforts would be a grave mistake and would needlessly inject divisive social policies into important debates over our national security.”
The committee began its mark-up of this year’s NDAA on Wednesday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Mr. Hawley’s role in removing the female draft from last year’s defense policy bill. The language was removed in a conference between the House and the Senate.