For first time in 40 years, Congress debates U.S. president's nuclear power

A protester confronts anti-riot police officers during a protest against U.S. President Trump's visit in Manila

"This continues a series of hearings to examine these issues and will be the first time since 1976 that this committee or our House counterparts have looked specifically at the authority and process for using US nuclear weapons", Corker, who is from Tennessee, said in his statement.

Corker, one of Trump's sharpest critics from his own party, said Congress needed to explore the "realities" of the nuclear strike system. "Once that order is given and verified, there is no way to revoke it".

The last time Congress debated this issue was over a four-day hearing in March 1976.

Trump has countered by calling Corker a "lightweight" who couldn't get re-elected if he ran again in 2018.

"Our adversaries are watching", Senator Marco Rubio said, who warned against steps that raise any doubts about United States presidential authority in a conflict.

The exceedingly rare hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came after Trump threatened North Korea with military force, including his declaration that Pyongyang would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen".

Stevens Institute of Technology's Alex Wellerstein, who has researched extensively about presidential nuclear authority, said he hopes the hearing "might shed some light on aspects of the procedures for presidential use of nuclear weapons that I think really needs to be known and talked about". "That is frightening", Cardin said.

The administration has been trying to soothe concerns by arguing the existing launch process that presidents have operated under for decades has sufficient checks in place that would discourage Trump from taking imprudent action.

Trump has used both confrontational and conciliatory language on North Korea in recent days.

Brian McKeon, the former acting under-secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Defense who testified before the panel, told Markey that he believes the Constitution would require a president to seek congressional approval to launch a nuclear strike in the absence of an attack or imminent threat.

Corker publicly questioned Trump's decision-making abilities last month when he expressed concern over the president's heated rhetoric that, in his view, undermined US diplomatic efforts with foreign adversaries and put the country "on the path to World War III".

One issue under debate was the concept of imminent threat, when the president believes a country poses a threat significant enough for the United States to order a pre-emptive nuclear strike. "It's not the only tool in the toolkit to try to address something like that", Mattis said. The measures, though, have not advanced in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Tuesday's hearing reflected the "exceptional nature" of the present context, said Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from CT.

"We are concerned that the president is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national-security interests", Murphy said.

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