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Posted on Dec 16, 2016 Print this Article

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.

  • According to media reports and a HASC Communications Summary of the final bill (S.2943), the House requested a full review of Selective Service operations and the system’s usefulness in the future.  CMR has learned that the Conference Committee Report Summary erroneously reported that the General Accountability Office (GAO) would do the study.  Instead, the Department of Defense is directed to provide a Preliminary Report by July 1, which the Comptroller General will review by December 1, 2017. [1]
  • The Conference Report does not include Chairman McCain’s committee-approved mandate for female Selective Service registration. (pp. 305-310)  Sections 553 ˗ 557 of the Conference Committee Report, however, go much further than the Defense Department Preliminary Report authorized in Sections 551 ˗ 552.
  • Language in the original provision that Chairman McCain passed without prior notice durng the May committee mark-up called for an 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.  (pp. 310-324)
  • Both parts of McCain’s legislation, which CMR opposed, would have been removed if a motion to strike sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (UT) had succeeded in committee.  Sen. Lee’s amendment failed 17-7, with all Democrats and some Republicans voting with McCain. [2]
  • Because Section 552 of the Conference Report calls for a comprehensive report by July 1, 2017, and also calls for review of this process by the Comptroller General by December 1, 2017, it is difficult to justify Chairman McCain’s expensive three-year commission described in Sections 553 through 557.  (pp. 310-324)

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. 

  • The Conference Committee Report specifies that members must be appointed “no later than 90-days after the commission establishment date.” (p. 312)  If President Obama wants to achieve his “Draft America’s Daughters” goals even after he leaves office, he could sign the bill quickly and take advantage of the option to appoint members before he leaves office. [3]
  • The president is authorized to appoint three commissioners, with SASC Chairman McCain, ranking House and Senate Democrats, and HASC and SASC chairmen and ranking members appointing one each.
  • One of the officials empowered to appoint a member would be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  According to three media reports (New York Times,, Daily Signal) Leader McConnell supports McCain’s “Draft Our Daughters” legislation.
  • If Obama makes appointments before January 20, Inauguration Day, the vote count likely would be 9-2 in support of the Obama/McCain agenda for mandatory national service of some kind.  (This assumes that House Speaker Paul Ryan and HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry would appoint the two outnumbered dissenters.)
  • If President Donald Trump makes appointments after January 20, and if his three appointees reliably oppose the Obama/McCain agenda for mandatory national service, commission votes would still favor that agenda, 6-5.
  • The margin matters since members who will serve for the life of the commission will choose the Chair, Vice Chair, and Executive Director of the commission. (p. 313)
  • The legislation also authorizes paid expenses for as many as five consultants and organizations to work with the commission.  Given the pre-determined bias of members likely to be appointed by Democratic Party leaders, these outside advisors probably would include activists, academics, and outfits such as RAND Corporation, which favors the McCain/Obama view.

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 report could very well be prepared in advance, since advocates of mandatory military or national service will have a majority from the start.  Contractors such as RAND also could recycle previous polemics to promote the McCain/Obama point of view. [4]
  • Final recommendations and a report will not be released for public review on the commission’s Internet website until it is submitted to the President and Congress.  This lack of transparency on matters that will affect all young men and women cannot be justified.
  • Among the topics to be discussed are current functions of the Selective Service system, what might be needed in a national emergency, and “the extent to which mandatory registration benefits military recruiting.” (p. 308)  The last question is ironic, since Congress has yet to consider recent surveys showing that orders for women to serve in the combat arms on an involuntary basis will greatly reduce willingness to serve among both men and women. [5]
  • The Conference Report calls for an assessment of the “feasibility and utility of eliminating the current focus on mass mobilization of primarily combat troops . . . and the extent to which such a change would impact the need for both male and female inductees.”  (p. 309)  The legislation fails to recognize that this discussion must start with a clear understanding of what the Selective Service system is for, and the fact that women have always volunteered to serve  in time of national emergency.
  • Even though it would be within the charter outlined, the Commission is not directed to consider whether the U.S. Constitution permits programs of compulsory "national" or "public" service by civilians for purposes other than mobilization for war during a catastrophic national emergency.  Regardless of possible benefits, there is no language anywhere in the Constitution that would give Congress the power to demand compulsory "national" or "public" service from young people. [6]


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.

* * * * *

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.

[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


Posted on Dec 16, 2016 Print this Article