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Citing 'Unpredictable and Rash' Trump, Democratic Bill Would Restrict Presidential Nuclear First-Strike Authority

"Trump's presidency has highlighted just how scary it is that any president has the authority to launch a nuke without Congressional consultation."

A flag at an anti-nuclear demonstration in 2013. (Photo: MAPW Australia/Flickr/cc)

A bill introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) won applause from anti-war groups on Tuesday, as the congressmen called on Congress to pass legislation prohibiting any U.S. president from launching a preemptive nuclear strike—while some anti-nuclear campaigners warned that the proposal is only the bare minimum that can be done to avoid nuclear war.

Lieu and Markey re-introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2019, repeating a call that's been made in the past by several lawmakers, demanding that President Donald Trump and all future presidents obtain congressional approval before launching a first-strike nuclear attack.

"Trump's brand is to be unpredictable and rash, which is exactly what you don't want the person who possesses the nuclear football to be," Lieu said in a press conference. "We introduced this bill under the Obama administration but Trump's presidency has highlighted just how scary it is that any president has the authority to launch a nuke without Congressional consultation."

"Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, Congress has the constitutional duty to decide when a nuclear first strike is warranted," he added.

The legislators' announcement came days after it was reported that the U.S. government is developing a new warhead, and just before an expected announcement by Trump that he will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, claiming that Russia has violated the agreement. 

"As the administration’s calamitous cocktail of ill-conceived nuclear policies brings us closer to the brink, Congress must pursue every option for stepping us back from that brink," said Paul Kawika Martin of Peace Action. "Removing the president's authority to launch a nuclear war without Congress is a simple and effective means of reducing the nuclear threat." 

Erica Fein, advocacy director for Win Without War, suggested the passage of the bill would bring relief to the American public.

"According to a new poll, nearly half of all Americans report they have no confidence 'at all' in Donald Trump; yet, because of our deeply flawed and dangerous system, if the president decides to launch a nuclear weapon, no one can stop him," Fein said. "It is high time for Congress to add a check on this or any future president’s ability to start a nuclear war."

However, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) expressed skepticism at the limited scope of the legislation, which would allow a U.S. president to launch a first nuclear strike if Congress gives approval.

ICAN has campaigned for nuclear abolition for years, calling on all nations to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The U.S. and other nuclear powers have refused to join 70 countries in signing the treaty.

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