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Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing

A group of top House Democrats is demanding answers from the Trump administration on reported conversations within the administration on whether to resume nuclear testing.

“It is unfathomable that the administration is considering something so short-sighted and dangerous, and that directly contradicts its own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Monday to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings Trump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief MORE.

The posture review, the lawmakers wrote, “which this administration often cites as inviolable, makes clear that ‘the United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.’ ”

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The letter was signed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Biden lifting Trump's transgender military ban Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency This week: Trump's grip on Hill allies faces test Trump signs .3T relief, spending package MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Jim CooperJim CooperFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturHouse Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair DeLauro racks up labor endorsements for Appropriations gavel MORE (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water; and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The Pentagon declined to comment, with spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver saying that "as with all congressional correspondence, we will respond directly to the author(s) of the letter.”

A Department of Energy official said the department received the letter and "will respond to the members through the appropriate channels."

A separate letter Monday to President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE, Esper and Brouillette from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWhat the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Hawley files ethics counter-complaint against seven Democratic senators Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterHillicon Valley: WhatsApp delays controversial privacy update | Amazon hit with antitrust lawsuit alleging e-book price fixing | Biden launches new Twitter account ahead of inauguration Illinois Democrat calls for new committee focused exclusively on information technology Working together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 MORE (D-Ill.), co-signed by 80 other House and Senate Democrats, similarly warned that “taking this unnecessary and provocative step would be an abdication of America’s scientific leadership and would weaken our ability to make the world a safer place to live.”

Also Monday, Democratic Reps. Dina TitusAlice (Dina) Costandina TitusHouse Democrats introduce bill to address diversity at State Department Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE and Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordNevada Democrat Steven Horsford wins reelection The robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada MORE, both representing Nevada, introduced a bill that seeks to prevent a resumption in nuclear testing. The legislation is a companion bill to one introduced in the upper chamber last week by Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHillicon Valley: Raimondo wades into 230 debate | Google cuts donations to election result deniers | House GOP unveils tech plan Markey questions Facebook on 'failed commitment' to stop recommending political groups Biden expands on Obama ethics pledge MORE (D-Mass.).

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The Washington Post reported last month that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. An official told the Post a test could be useful to gain leverage over Russia and China as the administration seeks a new trilateral nuclear agreement.

One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.

The only country known to have conducted a nuclear test this century is North Korea.

The Trump administration, without evidence, has also in recent months accused Russia and China of conducting very low-yield tests.

The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test since 1992, checking the efficacy and reliability of its weapons with subcritical tests that produce no nuclear yield, computer simulations and other scientific methods.

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The United States has adhered to a moratorium even as it has not ratified a United Nations agreement to ban testing known as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty has not been ratified by enough countries to enter into force, but major world powers have followed its main tenet of ending nuclear tests.

“As the nation which tested more nuclear devices than every other nation combined, the United States benefits most from a global testing moratorium,” the House Democrats wrote in their letter. “The notion that resuming testing would somehow pressure Russia or China into arms control negotiations is baseless and uninformed. Resuming testing would open the door for widespread global testing, which would only serve to benefit our adversaries and make Americans less safe.”

The lawmakers demanded answers to questions by June 22, as well as a briefing by June 25. Questions include under what legal authority and funding testing is being considered, whether the intelligence community is analyzing what the effects of a test would be on U.S. allies and adversaries, and whether there has been any independent assessment requested by the Energy or Defense departments on the need, cost and effect of resuming nuclear testing.

The lawmakers also argued a resumption of nuclear testing would have “far-reaching human and environmental impacts.”

“One need look no further than the public health and environmental toll that previous nuclear testing—both by the U.S. and by others—has taken here at home and around the globe,” they wrote. “The U.S. taxpayers have spent billions of dollars and will continue to spend billions more in the coming decades to address these impacts.”

Updated at 5:15 p.m.