Democrats raised questions about Donald Trump’s fitness for office long before he became president, explicitly focusing on the fear that he might start a nuclear war. Some prominent Republicans of the never-Trump persuasion chimed in. After Trump’s surprising election as president, however, congressional Republicans largely kept their concerns about his temperament—and his suitability to control use of the US nuclear arsenal—private.
The president’s belligerent and unorthodox responses to North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have expanded the range of public figures willing to question whether he—and there is no polite way to state the possibility—has come unhinged. Mental health officials formed a social movement called Duty to Warn, and many of that group’s members contributed to the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Along the way, members of Congress have introduced a variety of measures aimed, in one way or another, at restricting Trump’s ability to initiate nuclear war, and experts have debated the legal and ethical issues surrounding a presidential order to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
Now, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has announced that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, will hold a hearing next week on executive branch authority in regard to nuclear weapons use.
In a statement announcing the hearing on Tuesday, Corker said, “A number of members both on and off our committee have raised questions about the authorities of the legislative and executive branches with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and conducting foreign policy overall.
“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. This discussion is long overdue, and we look forward to examining this critical issue.”
A respected Senate voice on foreign affairs, Corker announced his retirement from the Senate in September and shortly thereafter harshly criticized the president, saying that, as the New York Times put it, “Trump was treating his office like ‘a reality show,’ with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation ‘on the path to World War III.’” The president subsequently tweeted that Corker is a “lightweight” who couldn’t get elected dog catcher, and Corker responded with a suggestion that the White House staff runs an adult day care center that sometimes cannot properly control its charge.