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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 EsperActing Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia Overnight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition 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 SmithTrump rails against Twitter in late night tweets The pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races MORE (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight GSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition Biden aide: First Cabinet picks will be announced Tuesday, GSA holdup preventing background checks MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Jim CooperJim CooperSpokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome House Democrat to DeJoy: 'Is your backup plan to be pardoned like Roger Stone?' House Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat MORE (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturDeLauro racks up labor endorsements for Appropriations gavel Ukraine language in GOP platform underscores Trump tensions Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending 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 John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE, Esper and Brouillette from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Britain to infect healthy individuals with coronavirus for vaccine trials Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal 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 TitusCoordinated 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?' Safe, responsible casino gaming supports state economies at crucial time 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 MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally 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.