(CNSNews.com) - Requiring women to register for the draft "is not an official administration position," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday.
Earnest spoke shortly after the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Staff for the Army told the Senate Armed Services Committee they think it is time to require women to register for the Selective Service.
"I believe that those military leaders were asked their personal opinion on that," Earnest said. "I didn't see the exchange firsthand, but that--there is no policy change to announce from here today."
Earnest said he was informed about the congressional exchange shortly before he walked into the briefing room. "I'm not aware of any rigorous policy process that's underway to consider changing that policy. But let me take a look at and see if there is additional information on this that I can provide to you. I can just tell you that right now, our policy on this has not changed. OK?"
Gen. Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Armed Services Committee, "[I]t’s my personal view that based on this lifting of restrictions for assignment to unit MOS, that every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.”
As CNSNews.com previously reported, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in December that all U.S. military positions--including combat positions--will be open to women. When asked if that means women must register for Selective Service like men are required to do, Carter said, “It may.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked the panelists whether or not Congress should look at requiring Selective Service registrations for all Americans.
“I think one of the questions we have to address now is registration for the Selective Service. As some of you may know there was a Supreme Court decision back in 1981 when in fact the question was put in front of the Supreme Court whether women should be required to register for the Selective Service under current law,” said McCaskill.
“Justice Renquist wrote, ‘The existence of combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’s decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded they will not be needed in the event of a draft and therefore decided not to register them,’” she noted.
“So in other words, the rationale that Renquist used for saying there was no requirement of women to register for the Selective Service has now been eliminated. I guess I want to ask all of you your sense of this,” said McCaskill.
McCaskill said opening up the draft to women might encourage more women to consider a military career.
“Part of me believes that asking women to register as we ask men to register would maybe possibly open up more recruits as women begin to think about well the military is an option for me,” she said. “Give me your sense as to whether or not Congress should to look at requiring Selective Service registrations for all Americans.”
Neller expressed support for requiring women to register for the Selective Service, saying “every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.”
“Senator, I think you very correctly pointed out this needs to be looked at as part of a national debate given the changed circumstances. The one thing you did say that’s not Selective Service related, but that we do believe that this will open up recruiting that more women will be interested in the Marines, because these last restrictions have been removed,” Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus Jr., testified.
Undersecretary of the Army Patrick Murphy said that there should be a national debate on the issue, noting that 1,000 women have been killed or injured in combat in the last war. When pressed to give his opinion on including women in a military draft, Murphy said, “Yes.”
“Yes, it should be a national debate, and I encourage the legislative body to look at that. I would say that unlike the decision in 1981 where we’re now in the longest war in American history - the very last one was 15 years – that we’ve had over 1,000 women killed or injured in combat. Now with this implementation, if you can meet the standard, you’re on the team not matter what MOS it is. So I highly encourage that national debate, ma’am,” Murphy said.
When pressed to give his opinion on including women in a military draft, Murphy said, “Yes.”
“Senator, I think that all eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
“I do too. I think it’s the right thing going forward,” McCaskill said.