Pelosi urges new law to limit president's use of nuclear weapons

Pelosi urges new law to limit president's use of nuclear weapons
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pressing Congress to bar the president from using nuclear weapons unless the United States is attacked first.

“I put this in the category of ‘urgent,’ ” Pelosi said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “We each take an oath to protect and defend.”

Pelosi said her promotion of the nuclear “first-use” concept has nothing to do with the volatility surrounding President Trump, whose saber-rattling with North Korea and threat to scrap a nuclear deal with Iran have raised plenty of concerns on both sides of the aisle.

Still, she characterized the 1946 law authorizing the president to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes as “ancient,” calling on lawmakers from both parties to rally behind legislation reining in that unilateral power. 

“It was in a different world,” she said, “and now I think it is necessary for us to address it.”

Pelosi outlined several different designs for restricting pre-emptive nuclear strikes. They range from proposals to define and expand the Cabinet members who advise the president before such an attack, to a blanket declaration that “the United States will not engage in first use of a nuclear weapon.”

“I like that one the best,” Pelosi said of the latter.

Trump has a long history of aggressive positions when it comes to nuclear weapons. As president-elect in December, he rattled the arms-control community when he tweeted that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

This week, Trump has been under fire after NBC News reported that he was eyeing a dramatic increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal — a report the president and his defense secretary vehemently denied.

Trump’s public jousting with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean autocrat, over Pyongyang’s escalating nuclear program has captivated nuclear weapons experts for months. He’s threatening to decertify the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama and a long list of America’s allies. And over the weekend, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the president’s volatile behavior risks putting the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”

Pelosi has criticized Trump at virtually every turn of his foreign-policy platform, which she characterized Thursday as “the stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off agenda.” But she insisted her promotion of the nuclear “first-use” limits transcends the current administration. 

“It has nothing to do with him,” she said. “It has to do with the presidency — any president who is there.”

Pelosi emphasized that the restrictions wouldn’t apply if the U.S. is attacked, in which case “the War Powers Act triggers for the executive any and all powers.” 

“But there is interest in the U.S. establishing itself as no first-use,” she added. “The law that was passed in 1946 was in a different reality of our country’s standing in the world.”