Congressional Democrats sent a letter to President Joe Biden this week urging him to give up his sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, Politico reported Tuesday.
The lawmakers said they want to reform the “the decision-making process the United States uses in its command and control of nuclear forces.”
Currently, only the president has the authority to launch U.S. nuclear weapons. Though he has advisers available to consult on any such decision, there is nothing that says he must.
And that is worrisome, the 31 Democratic letter-signers stated, citing actions of both former Presidents Donald Trump and Richard Nixon:
[V]esting one person with this authority entails real risks. Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.
While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering an attack, there is no requirement to do so. The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.
The passage above included footnotes linking to stories of former President Trump threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, Nixon Defense Secretary James Schlesinger’s concerns about outgoing President Nixon’s stability in the days before he resigned, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s futile demand that the Joint Chiefs of Staff remove the nuclear football from Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the letter, said in response to the Politico report, “Vesting a single person with nuclear authority entails real risks. I’m leading a group of my colleagues with @RepTedLieu in calling for reform to our nuclear command-and-control structure. It’s time to install additional checks and balances into this system.”
The letter offered a number of alternatives, including:
- Requiring officials in the line of succession, beginning with the vice president and the House speaker, “to concur with a launch order”;
- Requiring certifications from the defense secretary and the attorney general that a launch order is valid and legal, as well as “concurrence from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of staff and/or the secretary of state”;
- Requiring both a declaration of war and specific authorization from Congress before a nuclear strike can occur; and
- Creating a council of congressional leaders that would regularly meet with the executive branch on national security issues and require the president to consult with at least part of the council before using nuclear weapons.
Though the letter asked the president to implement such changes on his own, Congress could pass a law to implement any one or all of these restrictions and dare the president to veto it, HotAir’s Ed Morrissey noted. After all, it’s Congress’ job to be the checks and balances they are currently asking the president to impose on himself.