Daily Engagement: Assist in Relieving Donald Trump of the Power to Start a Nuclear War on a Whim


Daily Engagement is a new, brief, daily feature on Flavorwire. It’s aimed at helping people feel somewhat less helpless and hopeless (or at least in control of their helplessness and hopelessness) in the midst of a political news cycle that’s been doling out daily affronts to human decency.

Every day, we’ll post one easy thing that people can do to continue to resist the current state of politics under the Trump administration, focusing on the creative ways (we are a culture website after all) that citizens are finding to resist. Today we’re focusing on legislation introduced to House and Senate Committees that attempts to prevent presidents from launching a nuclear first strikes without Congress first having declared war.

What’s the issue?

Donald Trump’s indelicacy about just about everything is troublesome, but applying his tempestuous temper and tyrannical drive to the subject of nuclear weapons is perhaps one of the most worrisome things of all, given the whole potential mass destruction thing. Maintaining his previous tenor about nuclear arms, Trump repeated yesterday a desire to amp up US production of apocalypse shrooms. “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he told Reuters. As CNN points out, these were the first comments he’s made on the matter since his inauguration — and they reflect his tweet (yup, that tweet about nuclear policy) — about how the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

This is particularly unsettling when you know exactly how easy it is for the man who tweets about nukes to actually launch one. As per the Washington Post, Trump has “sole authority over more than 7,000 warheads” with “no failsafe” — and now he seemingly wants to have authority over more. “Under the system we’ve had in place since the early Cold War,” the article continues, “The one sure way to keep President Trump from launching a nuclear attack would have been to elect someone else.” Although the actual procedure requires the President to command the Secretary of Defense to carry out a launch, who then “serves as the conduit for implementation by the military,” it’s unclear whether or not a Secretary of Defense could legally refuse a President’s nuclear order.

Towards the end of January, you may have seen social media posts urging you to call your representatives about H.R. 669/S200. This legislation — introduced to the House by Congressman Ted Lieu and the Senate by Senator Ed Markey — is collectively called Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It would “prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.” Given Trump’s comments yesterday, along with his previous remarks/tweets/etc, it’s clear that blockading his nuclear capacities is crucial — and so is voicing support for Lieu and Markey’s efforts to do so.

Lieu and Markey both issued statements upon the Bill’s introduction on January 24. Lieu said:

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. 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. Our Founders created a system of checks and balances, and it is essential for that standard to be applied to the potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear war.

Markey said:

Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. Yet, President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists. Unfortunately, by maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, U.S. policy provides him with that power. In a crisis with another nuclear-armed country, this policy drastically increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation. Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.

Before any bill goes wide for an overall vote in either chamber of Congress, it has to be approved by a committee. According to the Government Publishing Office, H.R. 669 is being overseen by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, the corresponding Senate Bill, S200, is being overseen by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sure, in some ways it seems unlikely for this Bill to pass (a website called Predictgov certainly doesn’t give it good odds), given what its passage could mean for executive-legislative relations. According to the New York Times, Barack Obama also thought about changing the current First Strike policy, but ultimately it went unaltered, after advisers encouraged him to leave it as it was given that “new moves by Russia and China, from the Baltic to the South China Sea” were being made.

BUT, if enough people in Congress really wake up to the fact that Trump is not a normal President, and therefore that the powers to destroy the world typically allotted to normal Presidents (which itself is horrifying) should be more firmly withheld from someone so impetuous (and generally withheld, now that we know we’re prone to electing people like him), perhaps something like this could gain momentum. It could be another reminder to Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike that now’s the time to grow spines and ensure that our government eschews dictatorship and represents the majority of the population.

What can you do?

One particularly easy thing to do is to sign this petition on CredoAction calling for support of H.R. 669; at the time of this writing, it already has 59,000+ signatures of its 75,000 goal. If you’re a constituent represented by any of the members of House or Senate on either of the committees mentioned above, you can also call their offices. Here’s the list of the 47 members on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; clicking on their names will lead you to their websites, which typically provide their offices’ phone numbers on the homepage; the number for the committee’s offices is (202) 225-5021. And here’s the list of the 21 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (with links back to their websites.) The number for the committee’s office is (202) 224-4651. Even if you’re not represented by these people, it’s still worthwhile — even if these bills still have to go through the committee before being voted on by a wider group — to call your own Senators/Representatives. I was reminded of this — and the ability of other Congress members to pass along tallies of calls to people within the committee — by a staffer when I called the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Hill recalls that during a Presidential debate, Trump said, “I would certainly not do first strike. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table.” Certainty about how you might want to avoid leading to global destruction only lasts for a sentence, apparently. This is definitely worth a few calls.