Lawmakers brace for culture war collision as Congress hammers out annual defense policy bill

Republicans are gearing up for a bitter showdown over a proposal to include women in the military draft as House and Senate committees hammer out the annual defense policy bill.

The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed committee markup this week, includes key wins for hawks on the Hill including a $ 45 billion top-line boost to President Biden’s Pentagon budget and a green light for the Navy to continue development of its nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile program recently scuttled by the administration.

But the bill also thrusts the military back into the culture war spotlight by reintroducing language requiring women to register for the selective service which Republicans in both chambers have signaled is a non-starter.

And some in the GOP say they won’t back down from the fight over the draft, no matter the cost.

“You’re not going to draft my daughter, and I don’t care who I piss off in preventing that,” said Rep. Chip Roy in a statement. The Texas Republican staunchly opposed a similar measure in the House version of last year’s NDAA.

The fight over including women in the draft exposed fissures in the Republican Party as the NDAA made its way through the House last year. 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, including a similar multi-billion-dollar boost to the Pentagon’s top line.

The measure passed in the House version of the bill last year before it was removed from the final version in a conference between the House and the Senate.

“If the entire Republican establishment ends up getting behind drafting my daughter, then I will dedicate my efforts to burning that establishment to the ground,” Mr. Roy said in a statement on the lengths he would go this year to prevent the measure from passing.

On Thursday, just as the ink was beginning to set from the Senate committee markup, Mr. Roy sent a letter warning the House committee against taking up similar language in its markup scheduled for next week.

“Some of our colleagues won’t even call pregnant women ‘women,'” he wrote to Reps. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, and Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican, the Chairman and top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee respectively.

“The same government that left billions of dollars of equipment in the hands of the Taliban left Americans and SIVs behind in danger, leave our borders wide open, push for defunding police, mandate vaccines, and eliminate life-saving treatments cannot be trusted to not draft our daughters, ”he wrote. “I urge you to prevent any such provision from being included in the FY 2023 NDAA, or any NDAA thereafter.”

Supporters of the measure to include women in the draft note 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.

In a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed on Wednesday as the committee was still finalizing details of the bill, eleven lawmakers led by Sen. Josh Hawley outlined their opposition to the measure.

“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.

But some Republicans are signaling a broader divide that is deepening over culture war battles playing out in the NDAA, beyond the measure to expand selective service.

Sen. Marsh Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, said Democrats shot down other provisions aimed at making the military “less woke” during the committee’s closed markup this week.

One of those measures Mrs. Blackburn proposed was a requirement that DOD schools notify parents of “any matter relating to their child’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” which she said was aimed at barring “activists teachers” in DOD schools from encouraging their students to pursue gender transition without notifying parents of the discussions.

Another measure would have required the Pentagon to brief Congress on its spending on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and counter-extremism initiatives.

“The US military must focus on confronting the New Axis of Evil – Communist China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” Mrs. Blackburn said. “These regimes do not care how woke our military is or what our soldiers’ pronouns are.”

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