The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure Wednesday requiring women to register for the military draft, a move that comes just a few months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.
In a twist that presages how contentious further debate may be, the author of the amendment voted against his own measure. It passed the committee by a vote of 32-30.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't support drafting women into combat and he's opposed to opening infantry and special operations positions to women. He said he offered the measure to trigger 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 to make, Hunter said, not the executive branch. "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 committee members 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 didn't 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 will be included in the defense policy bill that authorizes the defense budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The full House will take up the bill soon.