Center for Military Readiness

December 14, 2016

McCain Establishes National Commission Likely to Promote His Goals: “Draft America's Daughters” Registration and Mandatory Military, National, or Public Service

During a closed-door mark-up session of the Senate Armed Services Committee in May 2016, Chairman John McCain sponsored without prior notice a controversial provision for the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  If McCain’s “Draft America’s Daughters” legislation had been passed and signed into law, young women as well as men would have been required to register with Selective Service (SS) for a possible military draft.

Chairman McCain’s legislation also called for a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to review the future of the Selective Service system and to consider ways to encourage or require young men and women to engage in some sort of national or public service.

Previously, senior House leaders acted to block similar “Draft America’s Daughters” legislation that the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) had adopted during their May markup session.  Fortunately, HASC Chairman “Mac” Thornberry (TX) and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (TX) stepped up to substitute a provision authorizing a study of Selective Service.  Senate colleagues joined Ben Sasse (NE) in respectfully asking Chairman McCain to “recede” or defer to the House version.

After months of grassroots pressure generated by organizations such as Heritage Action, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, Chairman McCain agreed to drop the SS registration measure in the Senate version of the NDAA.  This was great news.

CMR has learned, however, that details in the previously-undisclosed NDAA Conference Committee Report suggest that Chairman McCain demanded a high price for partial cooperation with the House.

Meetings between the “big four” chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, which occur behind closed-doors in late Fall, are unpredictable.  Even staff members don’t know which provisions will remain in the resulting Conference Report, which is presented for a final vote in both chambers with little or no opportunities for amendments.

Based on results, it appears that Chairman McCain and the two ranking Democrats outnumbered HASC Chairman Thornberry to achieve what may have been McCain’s primary intent all along: a tax-funded commission to promote eventual passage of legislation mandating conscription of all young men and women for military, national, or public service.

Instead of deferring to the House Committee’s call for an objective, expeditious study of Selective Service requirements, McCain’s legislation establishes a three-year commission dominated by appointees who are likely to promote and eventually achieve controversial goals that both Chairman McCain and President Barack Obama share.

The McCain/Obama Agenda

Chairman McCain has long been a passionate advocate of national service mandates that would commandeer the lives of both young men and women.  President Obama also favors mandatory national service, but had been essentially neutral on “Draft America’s Daughters” legislation.

On December 1, however, President Obama publicly proclaimed support for co-ed conscription. Obama’s timing was peculiar, since House/Senate Conferees already had announced that Chairman McCain’s controversial Selective Service legislation was going to be dropped before final passage.  That decision was made by the “big four” conferees without public disclosure of their deliberations.

Now we see the “devil in the details.”  Under certain provisions of the FY17 NDAA, apparently crafted by Chairman McCain, the required objective review of Selective Service, approved by the House as a substitute for “Draft America’s Daughters” legislation, will involve much more.

The finished NDAA authorizes an 11-member, politically-divided commission that will have as long as three years (36 months) to spend up to $15,000,000 per year.

How to Stack a National Commission

As written, the legislative language authorizes a commission with appointed members who are likely to produce results favored by Senator McCain and lame-duck President Obama. 

Has the Report Been Written Yet?

Under the legislation as written, the commission will have hearings announced in the Federal Register, and will write a report with recommendations, including draft legislation.


The issue of Selective Service cannot be adequately studied without a full review of the underlying issue: women in direct ground (infantry) combat.  Due to its likely membership, however, the three-year commission easily could spend $45,000,000 while avoiding discussion of recent USMC research setting forth sound reasons why minimally-qualified women should not be ordered into the combat arms or registered to be called up for the infantry. [7]

If the focus were placed on military readiness, not politically-correct social goals, an objective discussion would conclude that calling up equal numbers of men and women, knowing that only a small minority of women would be minimally qualified, would paralyze the system.  Such a policy would hurt readiness at the worst possible time. [8]

It is important to encourage volunteer service, but legislation to commandeer the lives of both women and men for involuntary military, national, or public service is an extremely controversial idea.  The concept deserves robust, informed debate and public hearings ˗ not a tax-funded power base to relentlessly promote single-minded ideas and opinions for at least three years.

As the new administration prepares to take office, Americans are counting on successful efforts to rebuild the strength of our military.  Americans also have the right to expect caution and serious awareness of the consequences of misguided legislation that would affect readiness and radically change the lives of every young man and woman in this country.

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Prepared by the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization founded in 1993, which reports on and analyses military/social issues.  More information is available on the CMR website: www.cmrlink.orgTo support CMR with a tax-deductible contribution, click here.  You can also support CMR by visiting, liking, and sharing the CMR Facebook page.

[1] There was no mention of the GAO in this Summary of the House bill (HR 4909).

[2] For details, see CMR: Senate Should Drop McCain Mandate to Register, Draft Women.   Republican Senators James Inhofe (OK), Jeff Sessions (AL), Roger Wicker (MS), Tom Cotton (AR), Mike Rounds (SD ) and Ted Cruz (TX) supported Sen. Lee’s amendment.  All Democrats and seven Republicans voted to defeat the Lee motion to strike, 19-7.  In addition to Chairman McCain, they included Kelly Ayotte (NH), Deb Fischer (NB), Joni Ernst (IA), Thom Tillis (NC), Dan Sullivan (AK) and Lindsay Graham (SC).

[3] See Anita Klumar, McClatchy: Obama is Moving to Trump-Proof the White House, Dec. 6, 2016.

[4] As CMR has reported for decades, RAND Corporation has produced many reports for the DoD on military social issues, which have been polemics promoting only one point of view: pro-women in combat, pro-LGBT law, etc.

[5] See CMR: What Do Women Want?  The Pentagon Doesn’t Care

[6] The Supreme Court recognized the power of Congress to enact compulsory military service in the "Armies clause" of Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution.  In Arver v. US, 245 U.S. 366 (1918), the Court held the military draft to be constitutional, specifically because of the power granted Congress to "raise and support armies."  There is no authority in the Constitution that would permit the Federal government to conscript the services of a certain class of people to serve “national interests.”

[7] See Executive Summary of CMR Statement for the Record, Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 2, 2016.

[8] See CMR Policy Analysis: Women, War, and Selective Service