February 23, 2018
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Lawmakers Want to Forbid Trump From Launching Unauthorized Preemptive Strike Against North Korea

"During the campaign, people feared a President Trump with the power to initiate a nuclear conflict—less than a year later, those fears are far too close to being realized," said Rep. John Conyers

by Andrea Germanos

With diplomacy between Washington and Pyongynag on its "last legs" and President Donald Trump continuing to ratchet up tensions, scores of U.S. lawmakers just introduced legislation to prevent him from launching a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

Denouncing Trump's "reckless" conduct, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, explained why many feel the president needs to held in check. "During the campaign," he said, "people feared a President Trump with the power to initiate a nuclear conflict—less than a year later, those fears are far too close to being realized."

Conyers was joined by fellow Democrat Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts in sponsoring the bicameral legislation (pdf), called the "No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017," which was introduced Thursday. Among the 61 co-sponsors are two Republicans—Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina.

The legislation states: "The American people, America's allies in Asia, and the entire world have been deeply troubled by escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula." It calls for no Pentagon or other federal agency funds to be used to launch a first strike against North Korea unless Congress has given approval.

Rather than launch an unconstitutional attack, the legislation says the president should "engage in talks with North Korea on concrete steps to reduce tensions and improve communication; initiate negotiations described to achieve a diplomatic agreement to halt and eventually reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile pursuits; and move toward a denuclearization and a permanent peace in the Korean peninsula."

"As long as President Trump has a Twitter account," said Sen. Markey, "we must ensure that he cannot start a war or launch a nuclear first strike without the explicit authorization of Congress."

Added Conyers: "Trump must immediately cease talk of pre-emptive war and commit to the diplomatic path advocated by both American experts and the South Korean government."

Diplomacy has been urged by antiwar groups as well, such as Win Without War, which tweeted in response to the proposed bill: "Thank you @RepJohnConyers for working to keep us safe from an impulsive and incompetent administration. We must let diplomacy work with NK."

Earlier this year, it should be noted, Markey joined with California Rep. Ted Lieu in introducing similar legislation, and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is about to so the same. He took to Twitter on Wedneaday to announce that he will be introducing a bill with Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Cory Booker (N.J.) "to prohibit any preemptive action w/o vote by Congress."

Murphy said the legislation "makes clear that any unauthorized preemptive strike on N Korea—nuclear or conventional—is illegal." He added: "For all the Republicans breaking w Trump, here is your chance to actually constrain his most dangerous power—to make war."

A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month suggests that nearly two-thirds of voters would be in favor of such legislation. Sixty-two percent of U.S. voters said they oppose a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and 65 percent said they are in favor of the U.S. negotiating with Pyongyang.

Author Rebecca Gordon wrote in column for TomDispatch on Thursday that "Congress should act while there is still time. Removing Trump's ability to unilaterally launch a nuclear attack might ease some fears in Pyongyang. And the rest of us might once again be able to sleep at night."

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