Just a few months ago, the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units. Now, a House committee has narrowly approved a measure that would require women to register for the military draft.
The 32-30 vote Wednesday night came with a twist: The proposal's author didn't back it, a clear sign that more contentious debate is ahead.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, does not support drafting women into combat and opposes opening infantry and special operations positions to women. Hunter, R-Calif., said he offered the measure in the House Armed Services Committee to prompt a discussion about how the Pentagon's decision in December to rescind gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted.
That's a call for Congress, not the executive branch, Hunter said. "I think we should make this decision," he said. "It's the families that we represent who are affected by this."
At times, Hunter evoked graphic images of combat in an apparent attempt to convince colleagues that drafting women would lead to them being sent directly into harm's way.
"A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill," Hunter said. "The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies' throats out and kill them."
But if Hunter was trying to sway people against his amendment, his plan did not work.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she supported Hunter's measure.
"I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription," she said.
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force fighter pilot, said draftees aren't exclusively sent to the front lines. There are plenty of other useful, noncombat positions for them to fill, she said.
Hunter's amendment was part of a defense policy bill that authorizes the defense spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The committee passed the legislation by a 60-2 vote early Thursday. Action by the full House awaits.
"I look forward to bringing the bill to the House floor in short order," said the committee chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
Written by Richard Lardner / The Associated Press