U.S. lawmakers and nuclear arms control leaders are set to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss limiting the power of U.S. presidents to launch a nuclear strike.
Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Congressman Ted Lieu of California are seeking to limit the ability of “President Donald Trump or any U.S. president to launch a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress,” a statement they released Tuesday said.
The statement cited the incident in 2018 when the president taunted North Korea over the size of his nuclear button.
After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used part of his New Year’s message to remind the world he has a “nuclear button,” Trump responded in a tweet: “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Markey and Lieu floated the idea of a bill limiting the president’s power at that time. Since then, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the nonprofit group that keeps track of the “Doomsday Clock” said Thursday the clock is stuck at 11:58, or two minutes to midnight — a metaphor for the nuclear destruction of the world.
In 2018, the world’s arms control architecture teetered on the brink of collapse as the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and threatened withdrawal from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Negotiations between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program stalled. Later, in an unrelated incident, Hawaii spent 38 minutes of panic, believing it was under nuclear missile attack after an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly activated a real-life missile alert.
“Recognizing this grim reality,” Bulletin president Rachel Bronson said, “it is still two minutes to midnight — remaining the closest to midnight that the clock has ever been set.”
Past efforts to limit power
Limiting a president’s power to launch a nuclear strike is not a new idea for American leaders.
During the Watergate crisis, President Richard Nixon declared, “I can go back into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes, 70 million people will be dead.”
That reportedly prompted Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to instruct the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “any emergency order coming from the president” — such as a nuclear launch order — should go through him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger first.
There was no need for the military leaders to follow that order.