Congress Takes on Trump’s Sole Authority to Use Nuclear Weapons

January 24, 2017

Washington, DC—Just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, members of Congress are seeking to limit the president’s ability to start a nuclear war. The effort reflects deep public concern about President Trump’s authority to launch nuclear weapons without the approval of Congress.

“President Trump now has the keys to the nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created,” said Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director at Ploughshares Fund.

“Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Yet Congress has no voice in the most important decision the United States government can make,” Collina said. “As it stands now, Congress has a larger role in deciding on the number of military bands than in preventing nuclear catastrophe.” 

New legislation introduced today by Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), called the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act,” would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress, except in response to a nuclear attack. The bill would effectively block the president from using nuclear weapons first in a crisis, without a vote.

"It is long past time to bring democracy to decisions about nuclear weapons,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions. “It no longer makes sense, it if ever did, to have so much power in the hands of one person. It is just too dangerous.”

Some will argue that Congress would never provide this authority, and thus the president could never use nuclear weapons first. But as then Vice President Biden announced January 11, “it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

The following national organizations have endorsed the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act:

The William J. Perry Project

Ploughshares Fund

Women’s Action for New Directions

Global Zero Friends Committee on National Legislation

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Council for a Livable World