A trio of Democratic senators on Tuesday urged their colleagues to take President Trump’s threats against North Korea seriously as they pushed a bill that attempts to rein in his ability to strike the country without congressional authorization.
“It’s time that we start taking President Trump seriously when he repeatedly threatens military action against North Korea,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support MORE (D-Conn.) told reporters on a conference call. “He’s made his enthusiasm for a military strike on the Korean Peninsula very clear over and over again.”
Murphy announced on Twitter last week he would introduce a bill to bar Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea without congressional authorization.
On Tuesday, Murphy made good on the promise and talked up the bill to reporters along with Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans We must learn from the Afghanistan experience — starting with the withdrawal As democracy withers, Bob Dole and other American soldiers must be remembered MORE (D-Ill.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzEight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs The Hill's 12:30 Report: More of Biden's agenda teeters on collapse The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin MORE (D-Hawaii), two of six co-sponsors.
The bill would prohibit the use of funds for kinetic military operations in North Korea without a congressional authorization unless there is an “imminent threat” to the U.S. or its allies, or American forces are repelling a “sudden attack” against the U.S., its service members or its allies.
In essence, Murphy said, it’s a restatement of Congress’ constitutional powers and of the War Powers Act. But the Democratic senator argued that the bill is still important because the executive branch “needs to be reminded” of the law.
Murphy added that he’s worried the administration considers an imminent threat to be North Korea merely possessing a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the U.S.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Monday night, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump's 'Enemies List' — end of year edition The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe West must deter aggression from tyrants better than it did last century Hillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau MORE acknowledged the administration has no authority to strike North Korea absent an imminent threat.
But pressed by Murphy whether they consider the possession of a nuclear weapon to be an imminent threat, they responded that such a scenario was too hypothetical to answer.
“I’m always reluctant to get into too many hypotheticals because the possession could be sitting in an underground, not-ready-to-be-used condition or the possession could be sitting upright on the tail about to be launched,” Tillerson said. “So again, I think it would have to be fact-based and given consideration as to the circumstances around an imminent threat.”
“I think this is an area where a number of facts would have to bear on the problem in order to give you a complete answer,” Mattis added.
Murphy said Tuesday he agrees that “it’s hard to ponder hypotheticals absent facts on the ground.”
But, he added, stating that North Korea possessing an ICBM constitutes an imminent threat would mean the administration has "full war-making authority" to strike any country that has such a missile.
In touting the proposal, Murphy acknowledged that it likely will not receive floor consideration. But Murphy said he’s talked to Republicans and thinks it would pass it if were to come up for a vote.
Schatz also said their bill is germane to appropriations, meaning they could try to force a vote on it in a committee markup of a Defense appropriations bill.
Schatz touted the bill as important to ensure Trump remains focused on diplomacy as he prepares to leave for his first Asian trip later this week.
The bill, he said, would “help whole country to sleep better at night.”
Added Duckworth: “Congress must take the president’s saber-rattling seriously and exercise its constitutional responsibility.”