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For first time in 40 years, Congress debates United States president's nuclear power

15 November 2017

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from CT, said Tuesday that he believes President Trump is so unstable he may launch an ill-advised nuclear strike.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. quoted Trump's "fire and fury" comments and threats to "totally destroy" North Korea, saying many interpret the sharp rhetoric "to mean that the president is actively considering the use of nuclear weapons in order to deal with the threat of North Korea".

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has said Trump's threats to global rivals could put the country "on the path to World War III", began Tuesday'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".

"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 authorization of Congress.

"The military does not blindly follow orders", he told the committee.

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"I don't think that we should be trusting the generals to be a check on the president, I don't think we should be trusting a set of protocols to be protecting the American people from having a nuclear war launched on their behalf", he said at the close of the hearing. Corker said the hearing was "not specific to anyone". He said those comments are fueled by Trump's statements about North Korea, including his remark in August that the US could respond to Pyongyang with "fire and fury like the world has never seen". And during his recently concluded visit to Asia, Trump called Kim "short and fat" after the young dictator reportedly called him old.

The escalating war of words has alarmed United States lawmakers. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said.

"I think hard cases make bad law, and I think if we were to change the decision-making process in some way because of a distrust of this president, I think that would be an unfortunate precedent", said Brian Mckeon, former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during the Obama administration. "A presidential order to employ USA nuclear weapons must be legal".

The three experts agreed there was no strict definition of "imminent", suggesting that a missile on a North Korean launchpad might qualify but that other scenarios might be less clear.

"It has implications for the deterrent, it has implications for the extended deterrent, .it has implications for our own military men and women", said retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command from 2011 to 2013.

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Trump's shifting posture on how to address nuclear threats has made lawmakers in both parties uneasy, particularly as the crisis over North Korea's ambitions escalates.

Rubio was referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ― but his description was similar to the way Democrats on the panel were describing Trump.

But when asked what he would do if he determined that a presidential nuclear order was illegal, Kehler hesitated about such a hypothetical.

"I don't know", Kehler replied, to nervous laughter in the committee chambers.

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For first time in 40 years, Congress debates United States president's nuclear power