Senate deadlock on restraining Trump’s powers
UNITED STATES: Senators trying to prevent President Donald Trump from launching an unprovoked nuclear attack were stymied yesterday, after a panel of experts warned them against rewriting laws to restrain a commander-inchief many worry is impulsive and unpredictable enough to start a devastating international crisis.
Senate foreign relations committee chairman Bob Corker, who has said Trump’s threats to global rivals could put the country ‘‘on the path to World War III’’, began yesterday’s session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has ‘‘sole authority’’ to give launch orders there are ‘‘no way to revoke’’.
By the time Corker emerged from the hearing – the first to address the president’s nuclear authority in over four decades – he was at a loss for what to do next.
‘‘I do not see a legislative solution today. That doesn’t mean, over the course of the next several months, one might not develop, but I don’t see it today.’’
Trump’s shifting posture on how to address nuclear threats has made both Republican and Democrat lawmakers uneasy, particularly as the crisis over North Korea’s ambitions escalates.
Republicans and Democrats criticised Trump earlier this year for promising to use ‘‘fire and fury’’ against the regime in Pyongyang if it made any more nuclear threats against the US; more recently, they have questioned him for taking to Twitter to call North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ‘‘short and fat’’.
‘‘We are concerned that [Trump] is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear strike that is wildly out of step with US interests,’’ said Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, one of several senators exploring how to prevent the president from launching a first nuclear strike without the permission of Congress.
Former administration officials warned that changing the law to prevent the administration from doing something rash could dramatically backfire.
‘‘If we were to change the decision-making process because of a distrust of this president, that would be an unfortunate decision for the next president,’’ said Brian McKeon, who served as acting undersecretary for policy at the Defence Department during the Obama administration.
The experts attempted to reassure senators that there are processes in place to ensure many seasoned military and legal experts review nuclear orders before they are acted upon.
That explanation did not satisfy committee Democrats, who insisted that Trump’s behaviour, and what they say is his habit of nominating and hiring administration officials who defer to his world view, means any internal resistance ‘‘does not offer real resistance if the president absolutely insists upon his way,’’ said Senator Edward Markey.
‘‘It should be the congressional prerogative to declare nuclear war,’’ added Markey, who has written a bill to ban the president from being able to launch a first nuclear strike against North Korea without the authorisation of Congress. –