WASHINGTON — President Trump’s rhetoric about North Korea and its leader — in speeches and on his Twitter feed — while touring Asia added a new urgency to a hearing tomorrow called by a Senate Republican to re-examine the limits of the president’s power to launch a nuclear weapon.
The hearing, called by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and frequent Trump critic U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), marks the first time in decades that lawmakers have examined one of the few unchecked unilateral powers a president has: ordering a nuclear strike.
“He has the ability to order the launch of as many as 800 nuclear warheads in under 10 minutes,” Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association told the Herald.
On this trip alone, Trump’s approach to North Korea has vacillated widely from embracing diplomacy to claiming that military intervention is the only solution to North Korea’s nuclear program. In a speech in Seoul, Trump warned the regime: “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”
Pyongyang dismissed the speech as “reckless remarks by an old lunatic,” Saturday night. Then Trump took to Twitter.
“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ ” Trump tweeted Saturday night from Vietnam. “Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe someday that will happen!”
Those words will hang over the committee tomorrow.
“A number of members both on and off our committee have raised questions about the authorities of the legislative and executive branches with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and conducting foreign policy overall,” Corker said in announcing the hearing, noting that tomorrow will be “the first time since 1976 that this committee or our House counterparts have looked specifically at the authority and process for using U.S. nuclear weapons.”
Kimball said the hearing will serve as a first step in lawmakers’ process of understanding the vast breadth of Trump’s nuclear authority. He said a bill filed by U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), has been “critically important in raising this whole issue.” That bill would prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without prior authorization by Congress.
Though the prospect of that legislation passing Congress by a margin large enough to override Trump’s certain veto is slim, Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the hearing.
“No human being, and certainly not President Trump, should be able to unilaterally launch nuclear weapons — the most destructive weapon ever invented by humankind — without provocation, without consultation, and without warning,” Markey said. “Yet under existing laws, the president of the United States can do just that.”
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