United States lawmakers question Trump's nuclear authorities

United States lawmakers question Trump's nuclear authorities

Corker has become an outspoken critic of the president, although he says Tuesday's hearing was not specific to President Trump.

Republican members on the committee said they anxious that adversaries would see and read about the committee hearing and infer that Trump was losing support in his role as commander in chief, making them more likely to attack the United States or its allies.

Corker's hearing is the first time since 1976 that either the House or the Senate has discussed the authority and process for the use of nuclear weapons, he said.

During the hearing, members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee questioned longstanding presidential authority to deploy nuclear weapons.

Trump has repeatedly made public statements aimed at foreign leaders, particularly North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom Trump has named "rocket man". 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".

Robert Kehler, who headed US Strategic Command from 2011 to 2013, referred to a basic military precept: "The military is obligated to follow legal orders, but is not obligated to follow illegal orders".

Democratic Senators were, nonetheless, concerned about the president's previous remarks.

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The panel ultimately, however, appeared to side against reining in the president's power to exercise nuclear authority.

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". The system requires the president to work with military aides and give orders that must be followed down a chain of command.

Duke University professor Peter Feaver told the committee, "You want to make sure you don't propose a legislative fix that undermines the nuclear deterrent and thus compromises the effectiveness of why we have nuclear weapons".

But "because even a single nuclear detonation would be so consequential and might trigger an escalatory spiral that would lead to civilization-threatening outcomes, we must also have a high assurance that there would never be an accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons", Feaver added.

Some Democrats have introduced legislation to explicitly prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war from Congress.

But when asked what he would do if he determined that a presidential nuclear order was illegal, Kehler hesitated about such a hypothetical. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said at the hearing Tuesday.

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