Democrats Call On Biden To Relinquish Sole Authority Over Nuclear Strikes
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor before signing an executive order in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Biden ordered a government review of U.S. supply chains, seeking to end the country's reliance on China and other adversaries for crucial goods. Photographer: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg
Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 30 Democratic representatives are calling for President Joe Biden to give up his sole authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons.

The group of Democratic House members, led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), signed a letter to addressed to Biden on Monday calling on him to reform the procedure by which the use of a nuclear weapon is approved. The 31 lawmakers suggested several reforms that would include more people in the decision process.

“As president, two of your most critical and solemn duties are the security of the country and the safeguarding of its nuclear arsenal. You alone possess the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, which assures that nuclear weapons remain under civilian control,” the letter states. “However, vesting one person with this authority entails real risks. Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.”

“While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”

The letter goes on to suggest several reforms to the process of approving the use of a nuclear weapon. Each suggested reform would make the approval of others outside of the president also necessary before any launch order could be given.

In one suggestion, the approval of the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives would also be necessary before a nuclear launch order could be given. In another, any order would require certification from the secretary of defense and the attorney general. The group of Democrats also suggested requiring a congressional declaration of war and specific authorization of nuclear force before an order for a nuclear strike could be given.

“We note your distinguished record and leadership on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation as senator and vice president. We ask you to lead again,” the letter continues. “As president, you will have the final say on any changes to U.S. nuclear foreign policy. We respectfully request that you, as president, review ways in which you can end the sole authority you have to launch a nuclear attack, and to install additional checks and balances into the system.”

Each president possesses what is known as the “nuclear football,” a briefcase that contains all that is needed for a president to authorize a nuclear strike.

Democrats have previously expressed concern over the president’s authority to approve nuclear strikes under the Trump administration. In the final weeks of former President Donald Trump’s term, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she spoke to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss Trump’s access to nuclear launch codes.

“I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” Pelosi said in a Jan. 8 letter. “The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.”

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