"Frightened" Democrat lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a congressional declaration of war. The bill - proposed by Rep. Ted W. Lieu and Sen. Edward J. Markey - follows through on a policy that was long debated - but never seriously pursued - during the Obama administration.
As FP reports, this isn’t the first mention of such legislation - the idea of it has been mentioned on and off for years, advocated by groups such as the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. At a January event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said he is “confident we can deter and defend ourselves and our allies against non-nuclear threats through other means,” adding that he “strongly believes” that “deterring and if necessary retaliating against a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”
But now the idea is anything but academic as the bill overtly questions President Trump's judgment, with the lawmakers saying in a joint release:
"the crucial issue of nuclear 'first use' is more urgent than ever now that President Donald Trump has the power to launch a nuclear war at a moment’s notice."
Congresman Ted Lieu, who has a paper sign reading, "Alternative Fact Free Zone" outside his office, took aim at Trump’s ignorance...
“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. 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.
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. I am proud to introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 with Sen. Markey to realign our nation’s nuclear weapons launch policy with the Constitution and work towards a safer world.”
Senator Edward J. Markey issued the following statement:
“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. 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. In a crisis with another nuclear-armed country, this policy drastically increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation.
Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law. I thank Rep. Lieu for his partnership on this common-sense bill during this critical time in our nation’s history.”
Markey and Lieu introduced their bill immediately following those September remarks, but brought it up again in the first week of Trump becoming president, receiving more press coverage. The bill has support from former Defense Secretary William Perry as well as five other prominent pro-disarmament groups.:
William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense – “During my period as Secretary of Defense, I never confronted a situation, or could even imagine a situation, in which I would recommend that the President make a first strike with nuclear weapons—understanding that such an action, whatever the provocation, would likely bring about the end of civilization. I believe that the legislation proposed by Congressman Lieu and Senator Markey recognizes that terrible reality. Certainly a decision that momentous for all of civilization should have the kind of checks and balances on Executive powers called for by our Constitution.”
Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director of Ploughshares Fund – “President Trump now has the keys to the nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created. Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Yet Congress has no voice in the most important decision the United States government can make. As it stands now, Congress has a larger role in deciding on the number of military bands than in preventing nuclear catastrophe.”
Derek Johnson, Executive Director of Global Zero – “One modern nuclear weapon is more destructive than all of the bombs detonated in World War II combined. Yet there is no check on a president’s ability to launch the thousands of nuclear weapons at his command. In the wake of the election, the American people are more concerned than ever about the terrible prospect of nuclear war — and what the next commander-in-chief will do with the proverbial ‘red button.’ That such devastating power is concentrated in one person is an affront to our democracy's founding principles. The proposed legislation is an important first step to reining in this autocratic system and making the world safer from a nuclear catastrophe.”
Megan Amundson, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “Rep. Lieu and Sen. Markey have rightly called out the dangers of only one person having his or her finger on the nuclear button. The potential misuse of this power in the current global climate has only magnified this concern. It is time to make real progress toward lowering the risk that nuclear weapons are ever used again, and this legislation is a good start.”
Jeff Carter, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – "Nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable risk to our national security. Even a “limited” use of nuclear weapons would cause catastrophic climate disruption around the world, including here in the United States. They are simply too profoundly dangerous for one person to be trusted with the power to introduce them into a conflict. Grounded in the fundamental constitutional provision that only Congress has the power to declare war, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 is a wise and necessary step to lessen the chance these weapons will ever be used.”
Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) – “Restricting first-use of nuclear weapons is an urgent priority. Congress should support the Markey-Lieu legislation.”
Well if you weren't terrified before, you sure are now. But of course, the Congressman and Senator are just doing this to ensure your safety... because to them, with all that is going on, the decision to reintroduce this bill and gain more press coverage is the highest priority.
Ironically, Trump tweeted this afternoon that tomorrow is a big day for national security...
Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017