President Trump has said that as many as 1.5 million people came to his inauguration, that as many as 5 million people voted illegally — all for his opponent, apparently — and that “many people” saw bombs in the home of San Bernardino terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik but failed to report them out of fear of being labeled anti-Muslim.
All three claims have been widely debunked, with The New York Times calling the inauguration whopper “false” and the voter-fraud allegation a “lie.” And those are just three examples of a string of falsehoods coming from the mouth of the leader of the free world. Is it any wonder that Westside U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu is proposing that Congress tie Trump's hands when it comes to first-strike nuclear capability?
The Democrat announced yesterday that he and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) were introducing a bill, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, that “would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress,” according to a statement from Lieu's office.
“It is a frightening reality that the U.S. now has a commander in chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be 'unpredictable' with nuclear weapons, and as president-elect was making sweeping statements about U.S. nuclear policy over Twitter,” Lieu said in a statement. “Congress must act to preserve global stability by restricting the circumstances under which the U.S. would be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon.”
While post–Cold War treaties have led to arsenal reductions among some major war powers, Trump has called for expanding the use of these devices and even reportedly asked, “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?” during a security briefing. This has caused chills among those who shared former President Obama's vision of a nuke-free world.
“President Trump now has the keys to the nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created,” Tom Z. Collina, policy director of Ploughshares Fund, said in a statement. “Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.”
Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, called nukes virtual “suicide bombs” and said in a statement, “No one individual should have the power to introduce them into a conflict.”
Lieu argued his bill would not only be constitutional but that it would halt the progress of future nuclear wars. However, there's doubt about whether such a proposal would pass muster with the courts. While the Constitution says only Congress can declare war, presidents have established a long precedent of using their commander-in-chief powers to launch first strikes and continue deadly aggression.
Those actions are supposed to be taken only when the nation is in danger of imminent attack by an enemy, but presidents, including Obama, have stretched that concept and gotten away with it.
“Proper declarations of war are a bit antiquated,” said Kal Raustiala of UCLA's Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. “The president has substantial powers, and the kinds of weapons used are up to his discretion.”
Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, seemed to agree, saying that if a president could argue that the nation faced an imminent military threat, then he could probably deploy the weapons of his choice. The general language of Lieu's proposal “walks a fine line,” he said. “The Constitution is very clear that the president is commander in chief. It's not a shared power.”
What's more, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act would face an uphill battle in a Congress controlled by Trump's Republican allies. “I wouldn't expect this to sail through,” UCLA's Raustiala, who's also a professor of law, said.
There is, however, an upside to this effort: It puts the issue of nuclear weapons front and center. “This can remind people we have this awesome power and we need to think about whether nuclear weapons exist for the good,” Raustiala said.