Dems seek to curb Trump's nuclear options

January 24, 2017
In The News

Two Democrats are pushing Congress to restrict President Trump’s ability to launch nuclear weapons, reintroducing a bicameral bill Tuesday that would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.

“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “Yet, President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists. Unfortunately, by maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, U.S. policy provides him with that power.”

Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) have long opposed the United States’ first-strike policy, which says the country reserves the right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Former President Obama reportedly weighed changing the policy before leaving office, but ultimately did not after advisers argued against that.

Markey and Lieu first introduced a bill restricting the ability to launch a first strike in September, tying the issue to Trump’s comments during the presidential campaign. But their concerns have taken on a new urgency now that Trump is in the White House.

“It is a frightening reality that the U.S. now has a commander-in-chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons, and as President-elect was making sweeping statements about U.S. nuclear policy over Twitter,” Lieu said in a statement.

Trump has repeatedly alarmed critics with his comments on nuclear weapons. For example, he’s suggested that countries such as Japan and South Korea should be allowed to develop their own nuclear weapons to defend themselves and tweeted that the United States should “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.”

During a September presidential debate, he did not take a first strike off the table.

“I would certainly not do first strike,” Trump said, before adding a few sentences later: “At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table.”

In his statement, Markey said current policy increases the risk of nuclear escalation.

“Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack,” he said. “By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.”

In his statement, Lieu said the restriction would be a matter of checks and balances. 

“Congress must act to preserve global stability by restricting the circumstances under which the U.S. would be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Our Founders created a system of checks and balances, and it is essential for that standard to be applied to the potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear war.”