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Senate committee questions Trump's nuclear authority

14 November 2017

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, noted that the panel - in either chamber - has not held a hearing on the issue since 1976.

"While it's true that military personnel have an obligation to disobey illegal or immoral orders, how will the "operators" at the bottom of the chain of command - the young men and women tasked with flying our nuclear bombers and launching our deadly land- and sea-based ballistic missiles - determine a president's order to use those weapons is unjustifiable, especially when they are expected to execute those orders in just a few minutes and train constantly to do so?" he said.

Corker, one of Trump's sharpest critics from his own party, said Congress needed to explore the "realities" of the nuclear strike system. "Once that order is given and verified, there is no way to revoke it".

The authority to launch a nuclear strike has remained with the White House since President Truman ordered dropping atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Trump has countered by calling Corker a "lightweight" who couldn't get re-elected if he ran again in 2018.

Markey, who urged support for proposed limits, added that his concerns about a president's authority to launch a nuclear first strike are even more elevated given the Trump Administration's approach to foreign policy.

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"If we are under attack, the president would have the authority under Article 2 to defend the country and there's no distinction between his authority to use conventional or nuclear weapons in response to such an attack", McKeon told lawmakers. That position followed Trump's threat of "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if Pyongyang continues its nuclear missile program.

The administration has been trying to soothe concerns by arguing the existing launch process that presidents have operated under for decades has sufficient checks in place that would discourage Trump from taking imprudent action. On Nov. 11, he said it was "certainly a possibility" that he could become friends with Kim Jong Un, hours after insulting the North Korean leader on Twitter.

At an October 30 Senate Foreign Relations panel hearing, lawmakers pressed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about policies for using nuclear weapons.

As commander-in-chief, the president has the sole authority to order a nuclear attack, which can be delivered either by submarine, airplane, or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) - which make up the so-called "nuclear triad". The measures, though, have not advanced in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, explained the reason for Tuesday's public hearing.

"We are concerned that the president is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national-security interests", Murphy said.

Senate committee questions Trump's nuclear authority