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Posted on Feb 16, 2016 Print this Article

Rubio & Bush Support Female Selective Service Registration While Denying Possible Draft

Cruz Calls Idea “Nuts” 

UPDATE #2: CMR Quadrennial Presidential Candidate Survey 

The New Hampshire Presidential Primary revealed what may be the first signs of voter concern about political correctness and social experiments in the military.  Following conflicting comments about Selective Service from four Republican presidential candidates, some voters may be worried about their daughters and granddaughters being registered for a possible future draft. 

During the February 6 New Hampshire debate, Sen. Marco RubioGov. Jeb Bush, and Gov. Chris Christie, who has since suspended his campaign, provided unserious, politically-correct answers to questions about women and Selective Service.  All three suggested that women should have to register on the same basis as men.  None seemed aware that in a world facing unforeseeable threats, this is a national security issue, not a debating society proposition.

Sen. Ted Cruz, who was not asked the same question, responded to the other candidates’ statements in a post-debate New Hampshire speech.  Cruz stressed that he would end political correctness in the military, which he described as “dangerous.” Addressing his debate partners, Cruz asked, “Are you guys nuts? The idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think is wrong, it is immoral, and if I am president, we ain’t doing it.”  

Under Obama Administration mandates, minimally-qualified women will be eligible to serve in the infantry and other units on an involuntary basis.  Once in uniform, they could be required to fight enemies such as ISIS on the same basis as men.  Referring to his own daughters, the Texas Senator added, “The idea that their government would forcibly put them in a foxhole with a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Exit polls did not explore the reaction of Granite State voters to the three candidates’ comments, but Cruz finished third in the primary, ahead of Rubio, Bush, and Christie.  Cruz’s unexpected primary performance suggested that he was not hurt ˗˗ and the other three not helped ˗˗ by taking their respective positions.   

Bush & Rubio Favor Selective Service Registration of Women 

The responses that Sen. Marco Rubio gave to ABC moderator Martha Raddatz during the New Hampshire debate reflected confusion about the issue.  When asked whether he favored registering women for Selective Service, Rubio replied, “First, let me say there are already women today serving in roles that are like combat. That, in fact, whose lives are in very serious danger, and so I have no problem whatsoever with people of either gender serving in combat so long as the minimum requirements necessary to do the job are not compromised.”

Rubio continued, “I support that, and obviously now that that is the case I do believe that Selective Service should be opened up for both men and women in case a draft is ever instituted.”

The Florida Senator seemed unaware that being “in harm’s way” in a war zone, where women have indeed served with courage, does not fit the definition of being in direct ground (infantry) combat.  The phrase describes small fighting teams, such as Marine Corps and Army infantry, artillery, armor, and Special Operations Forces, which “seek out and attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action.”  

Then Raddatz asked Gov. Jeb Bush to answer the same question, adding a reference to the worries of parents if their daughters were subject to SS registration.  Gov. Bush replied, “Why would they worry about it?”  Raddatz: … if the draft is reinstituted?  Bush: … “Well, the draft’s not going to be reinstituted . . .” 

Bush continued, “I do [support registration], and I do think that we should not impose any kind of political agenda on the military. There should be ˗˗ if women can meet the requirements, the minimum requirements for combat service they ought to have the right to do it. For sure.”

Bush seemed unaware that President Barack Obama has repeatedly imposed his “political agenda” on the military.  The worst example is his decision to ignore the best professional advice of the Marine Corps on the question of whether women should be assigned to direct ground combat units such as the infantry.

A week later on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Rubio claimed that Cruz had misrepresented his position. [i] On the question of forcing women to serve in combat roles, Rubio said, "That's absurd. I've never supported that.”  He added, “My oldest daughter is 16 years old and I am not in favor of her being drafted and forced into combat."

Rubio said he supported the All-Volunteer Force, and that he would be open to a woman serving in a combat role if she wants to and meets the minimum requirements that apply to both genders.

This position raises at least two questions for both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush:

  • If women are to register, what would they register for?
  • If Sen. Rubio doesn’t want to see his daughters drafted, why does he want his own and other parents’ daughters to register with Selective Service?

It is good to know that Sen. Rubio is concerned about America's daughters being "drafted and forced into combat."  However, his surprising support for co-ed Selective Service registration is not consistent with that position. There is no military need to draft women for direct ground combat duties, and if there is no need for such a draft, there is no need for Selective Service registration.

A good way for Sen. Rubio to clarify his position would be to provide answers to the 2016 CMR Quadrennial Presidential Candidate Survey, which is designed to inform voters on where all the candidstes stand.  (See below)

Understanding Selective Service 

Selective Service is a national defense insurance policy that serves a military purpose: identifying persons who might be needed to defend America in the event of a catastrophic national emergency.  There is no Selective Service draft right now, but the agency supports contingency plans that may have to be activated quickly if a national emergency occurs.  Males aged 18-26 can be penalized if they fail to register.

Selective Service registration is a duty, not a right, and the requirement is about national security, not symbolism. 

The 1981 Rostker v. Goldberg decision upheld women’s exemption from Selective Service registration, tying it directly to women’s exemption from direct ground combat assignments.  This was an easy call: since women were not eligible for assignment to direct ground combat units such as the infantry, there was no need to register them for service in those units.

Now the Obama Administration has unilaterally changed the rules, making minimally-qualified women eligible for involuntary service in direct ground combat units.

No one can predict how a future court might rule, but litigation to overturn the Rostker precedent is working its way through the courts. [ii]  The Supreme Court, if asked, might cite another reason to continue women’s exemption from Selective Service obligations, but the current administration is not likely to pursue any options that do not treat women like men. 

Some have argued that it would be best to drop Selective Service all together.  It is fair to debate that question, but only in terms of military necessity, not avoidance of the larger issue: women in direct ground combat.  Nor is saving money a good reason to abolish the system. The modest cost ($23 million) is less than the $36 million the U.S. Marine Corps spent researching the consequences of assigning women to direct ground combat units. 

Ultimately, decisions regarding Selective Service eligibility should be made by Congress following a full and candid debate about the military consequences of unnecessary changes.

Unfairness in the Name of Equality

The circumstances described in the following 1980 Senate report, which was cited in the landmark Rostker decision upholding women’s exemption from Selective Service, have not changed:

“If the Congress were to mandate equal registration of men and women therefore, we might well be faced with a situation in which the combat replacements needed in the first 60 days – say 100,000 men – would have to be accompanied by 100,000 women.  Faced with this hypothetical, the military witnesses stated that such a situation would be intolerable.  It would create monumental strains on the training system, would clog the personnel administration and support systems needlessly, and would impede our defense preparations at a time of great national need.” (Senate Report, June 10, 1980, Cong. Rec. S6531, emphasis added)

After extensive debate the Senate Report stated clear conclusions, emphasizing logistics and combat readiness concerns that are still valid today:

“It is also clear that an induction system that provided half men and half women in the training commands I the event of mobilization would be “administratively unworkable and militarily disastrous.” It has been suggested that all women be registered, but only a handful actually be inducted in an emergency.  The Committee finds this a confused and ultimately unsatisfactory solution.” (Senate Report, June 10, 1980, Cong. Rec. S6531, emphasis added) 

Any candidate aspiring to be Commander-in-Chief should recognize the harm that would be done if Selective Service had to expend millions calling up draft-age women to be potential “combat replacements” -- personnel to replace those who have been killed in battle -- only to send 99% of them home.  Casting a universal net would impede readiness, not promote it. 

In addition to administrative and training issues, a call for women to fight in land combat units at a time of national crisis would embroil the nation in an unprecedented cultural debate.  Is it acceptable to tolerate and even encourage violence against women, as long as it happens at the hands of the enemy?

This issue is not about “equal protection,” and involuntary infantry assignments have nothing to do with women’s “dreams” or “self-worth,” as former presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie said during the New Hampshire Debate.  Women’s rights do not depend on being treated like men in combat arms units such as the infantry, artillery, and tanks. [iii]

  • Recent Marine Corps research confirmed that in training for previously all-male units women would be exposed to injury rates double those of men and higher in ground combat units such the infantry that carry heavy loads on the way to battle.
  • Parents of sons also should be concerned, since changes in training to accommodate women will leave men less prepared for the violence of direct ground combat.
  • Due to physical disadvantages that are not going to change, orders to serve in direct ground combat units would actually impede more women’s careers than they would advance.

During the New Hampshire debate, Dr. Ben Carson discussed mental health and social services for veterans.  He and the other candidates would be wise to consider whether the nation needs ill-advised policies that are likely to increase the number of disabled female veterans.

None of this is necessary.  In previous wars, both military and civilian women have always stepped up and volunteered to do their part.  There is no reason to expect that they will not do so again.

Everyone hopes that America never faces a national emergency requiring a draft.  But if that happens, young men, who have a better chance of executing and surviving direct ground combat missions, should be called upon to consider enlistment in the All-Volunteer Force.  Conscription should not be reinstated unless a national emergency -- perhaps more than one -- overwhelm the capabilities of the All-Volunteer Force. 

Candidates Should Clarify Positions by Answering CMR Survey 

The 2016 Quadrennial Center for Military Readiness Presidential Candidate Survey began on January 4.  Sen. Ted Cruz answered “Yes” to all questions, affirming that he supports the All-Volunteer Force and opposes efforts to impose Selective Service obligations on women.

The Texas senator provided additional comments regarding CMR Survey Question #3, regarding women in land combat:

“The Marine Corps request [for exceptions] must be reconsidered.  As long as the requirements are fair and universally applied, the military must always place the best person for the job at hand, whether male or female, but we cannot let political correctness compel the military to lower its standards.” 

Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Dr. Ben Carson, and Donald J. Trump have yet to respond to six questions on this and related issues raised in the ongoing 2016 CMR Quadrennial Survey of Presidential Candidates.

This is a replica of the ongoing survey, which asks candidates for their views on military/social issues such candid re-evaluations of Obama-era social experimentation; e.g., women in direct ground (infantry) combat, religious liberty, and LGBT events promoting transgenders in the military.  These are military/social issues that affect active-duty personnel every day.

2016 Center for Military Readiness Quadrennial Presidential Candidate Survey

CMR, which does not endorse candidates, will continue to invite all of the presidential candidates to participate in the survey.  CMR will also provide updates as the 2016 presidential race continues.

* * * *

The Center for Military Readiness is a non-partisan public policy organization that reports on and analyses military/social issues.  CMR does not endorse candidates.  More information is available on the CMR website,

[i] Rebecca Savransky, The HillRubio Pushes Back on Cruz: I’ve Never Supported Forcing Women Into Combat, Feb. 14, 2016.

[iii] If the goal is “equal opportunity” and women comprise about half the population of the United States, the argument could be made that half of our combat MOSs should be filled with women.  Under current Pentagon theories of gender diversity, such as the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ call for 25% of all personnel to be women, why not?  


Posted on Feb 16, 2016 Print this Article