As President Donald Trump ramped up his war of words against North Korea on Thursday, the Bay Area’s Congressional delegation sent him a message: cool your jets.
Responding to reports that the North Korean regime had developed the technology to place a miniaturized nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile, Trump vowed on Tuesday that the country would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it kept up its threats against America. He doubled down on Thursday, telling reporters that his earlier statement maybe “wasn’t tough enough.”
Democratic members of Congress said Thursday they worried Trump’s fiery rhetoric could spark a war — and even lead to attacks on the U.S. mainland.
“His saber-rattling is putting the world at risk,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, in an interview. “The United States should be the grown-up in the room.”
She said hearing Trump’s rhetoric this week reminded her of listening to news about the Cuban Missile Crisis on the playground as a junior high school student — although “the words of war weren’t as profound and dangerous and scary (then) as they are now.”
The president’s comments are “recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the severity of the North Korean nuclear situation,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.
More than 60 House Democrats signed a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday urging him to rein Trump in. The signatories included Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jared Huffman, D-Marin; Ro Khanna, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Lee.
“These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people,” they told Tillerson. “We respectfully but firmly urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue.”
The letter also called for diplomacy with the North Korean government, and argued that any preemptive strike against the country would require Congressional approval.
Constitutional experts are divided on that question. The president generally is allowed to take military action without Congressional approval for 60 days under the War Powers Act of 1973, although national security experts disagree about whether a preemptive strike without clearly imminent danger from North Korea would be justified.
While Congress could pass a law banning Trump from taking military action against North Korea without Congressional approval, that’s unlikely to happen with Republicans controlling the House and Senate.
A bill sponsored by several Democrats in Congress would require Trump to get Congressional approval before any preemptive nuclear strike, but it has the support of only one Republican member of Congress.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area representatives said they were hearing from constituents worried about being one of the closest large metropolitan areas to North Korea. “In Guam, in California, on the west coast, people are nervous,” Lee said.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, said he’d received a surge of concerned texts from his constituents. “I’ve never seen anything like (the) chaos (Trump) has created,” he tweeted.
Constituent texts pouring in asking “should we worry about North Korea?” I’ve never seen anything like chaos @realDonaldTrump has created.
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) August 10, 2017
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