Compromise defense policy legislation set to be filed Monday will not require women to register for a military draft, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations, a stunning turnaround after the proposal gained bipartisan support in both the House and Senate this year.
Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees left the provision out of the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, despite the fact that both chambers' bills would have expanded the Selective Service System beyond men.
The move is a victory for conservatives who fought to strip the provision. Earlier attempts to kill the proposal came up short because lawmakers from both parties supported including women in the draft. Expanding Selective Service has gained momentum since all combat roles in the military were opened to women.
It's also likely to upset Democrats who are already on edge over what may not make the cut. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are threatening to oppose the bill in the House this week if it doesn't include a major overhaul in how the military prosecutes felonies as well provisions to combat extremism in the ranks.
The defense bill, which has become law each year for six decades, may also become a vehicle for Democratic leaders to address the impending debt limit. Linking the military policy bill to the federal borrowing limit, or other unrelated issues, may jeopardize GOP support for the legislation, however.
Typically provisions that pass in both chambers are almost guaranteed to become law in the final bill lawmakers iron out. The military draft expansion is one of the rare exceptions, but may have been sacrificed to secure other provisions in the bill.
One of the people with knowledge of the move said the provision was stripped as a trade-off so Republicans would accept reforms to the military justice system.
Conservative Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who opposed the bill in the Armed Services Committee over the expansion, pushed for an amendment to strip the provision from the Senate bill. Though Democrats were prepared to give Hawley the vote, an impasse over amendments forced the Senate to scrap efforts to amend and pass its own version of the bill.
Hawley wrote on Twitter on Monday that, if the provision remains in the final bill, he "will continue to insist on a vote on the Senate floor to strike the provision."
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), a social conservative who opposes requiring women to register, celebrated its removal from the bill. She criticized the move as "imposing a woke ideology on our troops rather than meeting the current needs of our military."
"Women are not chess pieces in a political game. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers and already valuable members of our all-volunteer force," Hartzler said. "I applaud the removal of this unnecessary provision and am grateful to see reasonable minds come together to join me in resisting this effort."
Calls to expand the draft beyond men have grown recently, particularly after the Pentagon opened all combat roles to women in 2015. An 11-member independent commission that reviewed the draft also backed the change last year in its final report to Congress.
Advocates of reining in presidential war powers also came up short in the defense bill.
Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said Monday the bill won't include repeals of the 2002 Iraq War or 1991 Gulf War authorizations. The Senate had tried, and failed, to secure a vote on the bipartisan repeals, but may still revisit the issue as standalone legislation.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised a war powers vote on the floor this year, but time is tight for the Senate to slot in a vote on the measure, offered by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are mulling whether to tie the defense bill with efforts to address the debt limit.
That's a risky proposition, as Republicans could jump ship on the NDAA over the debt limit. GOP lawmakers have been loathe to support efforts to increase the country's borrowing limit with Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House.
Senate GOP leaders largely poured cold water on the defense-for-debt gambit on Monday.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.