Back in the Senate , the Texas Republican faces an uphill climb to thwart the effort. A proposal to require women to register for the Selective Service was folded in to the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill that the Armed Services Committee approved Thursday behind closed doors.
Cruz said he won't support the bill as a result: "Unfortunately, the [National Defense Authorization Act] includes a provision that will force the young women in this country to register for Selective Service and be subject to a draft. I cannot in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat," he said in a statement. "Therefore, I did not support the NDAA in committee. I will continue my efforts to speak out against the effort to force America’s daughters into combat."
[Related: Women, Grab Your Rifles] With the proposal already in the bill coming out of committee, Cruz and like-minded colleagues like Mike Lee of Utah can try to strip that provision out through amendment when the bill reaches the Senate floor.
Cruz and Lee were two of the three Armed Services members to oppose the bill in committee. The recorded votes from the committee meetings have not yet been released.
There could be a heated debate on the issue, and a close floor vote, though the side that prevails in committee on a contentious topic usually wins. [Related:John McCain Joins Call to Register Women for the Draft] Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona said last month he was leaning in favor of expanding the Selective Service to women as part of the annual must-pass defense bill.
"It seems to me that if they are taking on a combat role that that also means that they would be eligible for registration, but I don't necessarily mean that means I support drafting them," McCain told reporters. "It's a leap between registering and drafting."
McCain had joined the chorus against the Cruz position earlier this year, in a statement to Roll Call.
"As women serve in more roles across the armed forces, I support the recommendation of the Army Chief of Staff and the Commandant of the Marine Corps that women should register for Selective Service," he said.
[Related: Women Changing the Face of Senate Armed Services Panel] Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill broached the question with service chiefs at an Armed Services Committee hearing in February, and the positive response she got led GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to back the change too.
"The President highly values the service of men and women who comprise our all-volunteer force and have proven their mettle in our missions worldwide — including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of ongoing litigation on the registration of women, we have no further comment," National Security Council spokesman Myles Caggins said.
[Related: U.S. Military Tells Congress Women Should Register for Draft] A better shot at halting the effort may come during negotiations between the House and the Senate on the final version of the fiscal 2017 defense bill, particularly since the vote in the House Armed Services was narrow and unexpected.
California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter reportedly introduced the amendment as a gambit to force lawmakers to discuss the expansion of combat roles to women, and not because he supports the change. The amendment drew attention far beyond Washington, and was even featured on "The Daily Show" .
[Related: Best of Office Space: Pete Sessions' Texas Trail] The odds of a House floor vote reversing the Hunter amendment are good. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions has indicated that he plans to offer such a proposal — and as chairman, he can make sure his amendment gets a vote.
"We’re talking about girls that turn 18 that would be required the day they turn 18 to register with the Selective Service and give them their data and information," the Texas Republican said in an interview. "And I believe the country is not prepared for that. If a women in the military chooses to be in combat, that is their decision. Not as a girl, every girl that turns in 18 in this country."
[Related: Podcast: Congress Eyes Expanding Draft to Women] Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Friday that he wants lawmakers to vote on the the draft issue though he hopes in the end it will not be a part of the House legislation. This would force the committees from each chamber to address the topic when they go to conference to reconcile their two bills.
Hunter said he opposes including women in the draft because he does not believe women should be able to serve in infantry or special operations forces. But as women take over more combat roles, he said it's necessary to ensure women and men are treated equally.
"Either you're going to have equality or you're not. You can't half-ass it. And I think that's why this debate is important," Hunter said in a brief interview. "There should be a discussion on this and I think every member of Congress should have to vote on it."
For Sessions, the issue is about more than gender. If his amendment to strip the provision fails, he said, “My colleagues will face the wrath of people who did not see this as a gender issue but see this as a big government issue where government wants their information. And that’s a dangerous thing. A big government is dangerous.”
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas said Friday he has not read the Senate bill yet, but believes Congress must first examine if the draft is still necessary. He shrugged off a question about whether the heated debate over the draft could threaten the broader defense measure, noting, "It's always something."
Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on April 28 that he shares Thornberry's view.
"We need to take a comprehensive look at the entire Selective Service process," he said. "And we shouldn't just deal with one issue at a time."
[Related: Democratic Doves, Threatened Incumbents Complicate President's Choice on Military Action in Iraq] House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he supports women registering for the draft because it makes sense not to discriminate on gender.
"I don’t see how you make the distinction," he said in an interview. "If you’re eligible to serve in the service and you’re eligible to serve in combat and we reinstitute the draft — the only reason you’re going to reinstitute the draft is because you have a huge need — why wouldn’t you have everybody eligible to serve, [whatever] their gender? Why should that preclude them?”
[Related: Military Women Sweep Top Spots at Marine Corps Marathon] Apart from the question of women registering, the Senate committee also wants to set up a commission to review the future of the draft itself, including the prospects for other service opportunities.
Lindsey McPherson, Bridget Bowman and John T. Bennett contributed to this report. Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.