President Donald Trump has become America’s most serious national security risk. At this very moment, Trump has the unchecked power to launch a nuclear first strike against any adversary.
Trump’s inflammatory threat at the United Nations in September to “totally destroy” 25 million people in North Korea put the world on notice that the nuclear option is on the table. Former CIA Director John Brennan said recently that there is now at least a 20 percent chance of a military conflict with North Korea.
We need to disarm Trump from launching a nuclear first strike. Here’s how we can do it.
We can urge our representatives in Congress to support the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017” and press for committee hearings on this bill in both houses. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced this legislation (S. 200) last January, and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., concurrently introduced a companion House measure (H.R. 669).
Simply put, the Markey-Lieu bill would bar the president’s ability to launch a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. As of last week, S. 200 had 13 co-sponsors, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is not yet a co-sponsor. This legislation not only addresses a fundamental question of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches as old as the republic, but it would also reduce the existential threat of nuclear war that has put a chill over humanity since 1945.
H.R. 669 had 72 House co-sponsors as of last week, including many members of the Bay Area’s congressional delegation, although Rep. Nancy Pelosi has not yet become a co-sponsor. Although by tradition congressional party leaders like Pelosi usually do not introduce or co-sponsor many bills, we should ask her not only to co-sponsor H.R. 669, but also urge her to persuade other undecided Democratic colleagues to co-sponsor this critical and historic legislation.
S. 200 is pending before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. It is well-known that Corker has expressed serious concerns over Trump’s “stability and competence,” and that the president’s reckless and impulsive threats could put us “on the path to World War III.” Corker also conducted a hearing in June to review the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in the wake of 9/11. AUMFs have been used since 2001 by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump to justify military action in various countries to fight terrorism.
So it would seem that a hearing on S. 200, to disarm the president’s ability to launch a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress, would be in harmony with Corker’s concerns over the proper use of military force by any president.
Meanwhile, H.R. 669 is pending before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who is in a competitive race for re-election in his Orange County district. In fact, at least two well-funded Democrats have announced that they will challenge Royce. So he might be more willing to hold a hearing on a bill like H.R. 669 than in the past.
Bottom line: If we want to snatch the nuclear codes from Trump’s hands to keep him from launching a nuclear first strike, we should urge Feinstein and Harris to press for hearings and passage of S. 200, and for our Bay Area House members to do the same with respect to H.R. 669.
No president should have the sole power to launch a nuclear first strike. Because it’s unconstitutional.
Bob Ryan was a state Senate legislative staffer in Sacramento in the 1970s and has worked in congressional campaigns as a campaign manager and press secretary. He is a member of the Washington and Pennsylvania bars, practices exclusively in the federal courts and resides in San Francisco.