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Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

While debate over this year's defense bill is dominated by topics like China, Afghanistan and a president's authority to declare war, a quieter experiment is also playing: Advocates are using the legislation to test expansions of protections for women in the military.

Why it matters: The Senate resumed consideration the National Defense Authorization Act this week. Democrats and Republicans continue to squabble over key amendments to the bill, threatening to delay the must-pass legislation.

  • Once the Senate completes its work, a conference committee must resolve differences with the version already passed by the House.

What we're watching: Several efforts to better accommodate women, or deal with issues that disproportionately impact them, are noteworthy in that their backing is markedly bipartisan — an aberration these days:

  • Parental leave: Both the Senate and House versions of the bill include provisions expanding paid-leave benefits for service members, including up to 12 weeks of parental leave in the case of birth, adoption or long-term foster placement of a child.
    • Currently, many service members only receive two to three weeks of parental leave, and foster parents don't receive any form of paid parental leave.
  • Women and the Selective Service: The bill includes a provision requiring all Americans ages 18-26 to sign up — regardless of their gender identification — to register for a military draft, but some conservative Republicans are pushing to strip the provision.
    • As the Senate considers amendments before a final vote, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-M0.), is leading a group of Republicans in a renewed effort to block it. It's not clear it has the numbers to stop it.
  • Sexual assault reform: The bill contains a bundle of provisions implementing the main recommendations suggested by a Pentagon-commissioned panel in just six months.
    • In late June, the Independent Review Commission (IRC) released a report with 82 recommendations about how the U.S. military could help prevent sexual assault in the armed forces — focused on accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim support.

What they're saying: "We need to lead by example," Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) told Axios.

Go deeper

Sinema cites "disease of division," says she won't support changing filibuster rules

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated her long-standing support for the 60-vote Senate filibuster during a floor speech Thursday, dampening Democrats' hopes of reforming filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.

The backdrop: President Biden earlier this week threw his support behind changing filibuster rules in order pass voting rights legislation, and will attend the Senate Democratic caucus lunch later Thursday to make his case.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker