This vote was on a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would have prevented the military from allowing people to enlist if they had been convicted within the past five years of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, arson, a hate crime, sexual misconduct, making terrorist threats, kidnapping, abduction or indecent acts with a minor. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds Defense Department programs in fiscal 2008.
Currently the armed forces have a prohibition against allowing any felon to enlist, however it may waive this rule at its discretion on a case by case basis. Boxer’s amendment would prevent the military from waiving this rule for the types of felony convictions listed above.
Boxer said that the waiver rule was put into place to allow kids who made less serious mistakes in their past – a drug use conviction, for instance -- to have a second chance at a career in the military. But Boxer said in recent years as the military has struggled to meet its recruitment goals, it has issued an increasing number of waivers for violent crimes.
“That is what leads me to this commonsense amendment. It is hard for me to believe I have to fight for this. This amendment may not pass, which is stunning to me when I think of how clear the issue is,” Boxer said. “I guess I would ask a mom or a dad who has a son or a daughter over there, would they want their child in a foxhole with someone who was convicted twice of assault with a deadly weapon? Do you want someone in a foxhole with your son or daughter who was convicted of a sex crime? I think they would say no.”
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a decorated WWII veteran, made the motion to kill Boxer’s amendment. He said it was a “difficult decision,” but that he believed the military’s waiver system was working properly. He also said that in some areas of the country – whether right or wrong – some crimes are considered less serious than others, and some more serious. He gave an example of the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, which today the country finds reprehensible, but at the time was considered understandable.
“If I may be very personal about this, I have been a victim of hate and hate crimes, so I do know something about hate crimes. If you can imagine my returning from World War II in my full regalia, uniform with four rows of ribbons, with a hook in my right hand, and going to a barber shop, and they looked at me and said: Are you a Jap? When I told them, no, I am an American: But your parents, are they Japs? And I have to say: Yes, they are Japanese. Well, we do not cut Jap hair. Well, in some jurisdictions, that was appropriate and proper. Today we do have jurisdictions where we do have segregation, maybe not legally but understandably we do,” Inouye said.
By a vote of 53-41, the Senate killed Boxer’s amendment. All but four Republicans present voted to kill the amendment. Of Democrats present, all but nine voted against killing the amendment. (The most progressive members of the Senate voted against killing the amendment.) Thus, the measure went forward without language that would have prevented the military from allowing those convicted of certain violent felonies from enlisting.