Congressman Proposes Law To Prevent Trump From Being Able To Launch Nukes On His Own

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK J. TERRILL

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) plans to introduce legislation that would make it more difficult for presidents to launch nuclear weapons.

In a press release distributed Thursday, Lieu writes that “the erratic and impulsive behavior of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has highlighted the structural dangers of America’s nuclear weapons launch protocols. Having taught the Law of War when I served on active duty, and as a graduate of Air War College, it is clear to me that the traditional checks and balances on the Executive branch do not apply when it comes to nuclear weapons. This process needs to be fixed.”

Lieu’s solution is to essentially require congressional approval for nuclear launches. Currently, the president only needs to consult with the secretary of defense, and even they don’t have veto power. During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden said the current system “is designed for speed and decisiveness. It’s not designed to debate the decision.” Lieu isn’t comfortable with that, especially if the next president ends up being Trump.

“When Congress comes back into session, I plan to introduce legislation that requires the concurrence of leaders in Congress — who are not beholden to the President — before a nuclear strike can be launched,” Lieu adds. “We can no longer have the fate of civilization depend on just two people in the Executive Branch.”

Lieu’s proposal was disseminated just a day after a discussion of Trump on Morning Joe painted a terrifying picture of the Republican presidential nominee’s interest in using nuclear weapons. Host Joe Scarborough’s cited an anonymous “foreign policy expert” who told him Trump repeatedly expressed interest in using nukes during a briefing. Publicly, Trump hasn’t ruled out using nuclear weapons — even in Europe — and has said he wants to be “unpredictable” with his nuclear policy.

Lieu isn’t the only one worried about the possibility of Commander in Chief Trump. On the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refused to say whether he’s comfortable with Trump possibly having control of the nuclear arsenal. And during the aforementioned MSNBC discussion, Hayden, who worked as both NSA and CIA director under George W. Bush, expressed concern about “how erratic” Trump is.

“He’s inconsistent. And when you’re the head of a global superpower, inconsistency, unpredictability, those are dangerous things,” Hayden said. “They frighten your friends and they tempt your enemies. And so, I would be very concerned.”
But Lieu’s proposal raises constitutional concerns. The president, as commander in chief, is generally afforded broad autonomy over the military, and conditioning the use of nuclear weapons on congressional approval could violate the separations of power. It also raises practical concerns. The idea of nuclear deterrence is that either side could wipe out the other in minutes. Lieu’s proposal could damage the perceived ability of the United States to retaliate against a nuclear attack.

Regardless, Lieu’s interest in eliminating the president’s ability to launch a nuclear strike on his or her own represents the growing fears of what happens when Trump, or a candidate like him, gains access to the nuclear codes.