By a 85-13 vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year. It did not include amendments that would have required greater authorization for conflicts, and did not include an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to end Selective Service. Instead, it welcomed women into Selective Service for the first time, starting in 2018, unless that policy is stripped when the bill goes to conference.
The vote contained some element of surprise, as Republicans had stopped the female draft provision in the House. In fact, its presence in that version of the NDAA was a kind of ruse gone wrong. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a military veteran opposed to women serving in combat, proposed the draft amendment during mark-up, to make a point. Expecting the amendment to fail, he voted against it, ready to argue that Democrats and other supporters of women in combat were hypocrites.
To Hunter's surprise, the draft provision nearly survived. It took some sleight of hand by the House Rules Committee, which replaced the draft with a toothless study of a draft's effectiveness.
Yet in the Senate, the draft debate continued -- and its opponents fumbled. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who had vehemently opposed a draft for women during his campaign for president, voted against the bill and protested how the language made it in.
"The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls into combat, to my mind, makes little or no sense," he said. "It is at a minimum a radical proposition. I could not vote for a bill that did so, particularly that did so without public debate."
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who also opposed the NDAA, accused unnamed partisans of creating a debate out of thin air. "Wisdom should be nudging us to try to avoid unnecessary fighting," he told the Omaha World-Herald. "Why are we now fighting about drafting our sisters and our mothers and our daughters into a draft that no one anywhere is telling us that they need?"
Conservatives seemed to be united -- then watched most of their colleagues keep the language they couldn't stand. According to the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was ready with language that would have neutered the draft section of the bill, but did not get a chance to offer it as he fought to trade it for other amendments.
That left the responsibility for nixing the amendment with the conference committee, where conservatives saw some hope. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said immediately after the vote that he would work to get the language out.
"In conference, I will be supporting the stronger House language on [Guantanamo Bay, Cuba] and working to remove unnecessary Senate language requiring women to register for the draft," Inhofe pledged.