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Lawmakers Want to Neuter Federal Funds for a First Strike on North Korea

North Koreans attend a rally to celebrate the regime's rocket launch at Kim Il Sung Square in the capital Pyongyang on Feb. 8, 2016. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are trying to block the use of any federal funds to conduct a first strike on North Korea, arguing that the move would keep war powers with Congress as intended.

Legislation was introduced Thursday in the House by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), the only Korean War veteran among the Democratic Caucus, and in the Senate by Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who’s ranking member on the Foreign Relations East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee.

Co-sponsors are all Dems except for Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a leading co-sponsor of the Conyers bill.

The No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act notes that the Constitution grants Congress “the sole power to declare war” and a “conflict on the Korean peninsula would have catastrophic consequences.”

President Trump, in coordination with U.S. allies, the resolution states, should “engage in talks with North Korea on concrete steps to reduce tensions and improve communication; initiate negotiations designed to achieve a diplomatic agreement to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits; and move toward denuclearization and a permanent peace in the Korean peninsula.”

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense or to any other Federal department or agency may be used to launch a military strike against North Korea or otherwise introduce the Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea” until Congress declares war on North Korea, the bill stipulates.

There’s an exception “to repel a sudden attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces, or its allies; or to rescue or remove United States personnel.”

Conyers said he was “ashamed” of Trump’s “reckless” engagement “that endangers our troops stationed in South Korea and our regional allies,” which has included tweets calling Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and telling Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that diplomacy would be useless to stop Kim’s nuclear program.

“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,” Conyers said. “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.”

Markey said in a statement that Trump’s “provocative and escalatory rhetoric, with threats to unleash ‘fire and fury’ and ‘totally destroy’ North Korea, cannot be allowed to turn into reality.”

“As long as President Trump has a Twitter account, we must ensure that he cannot start a war or launch a nuclear first strike without the explicit authorization of Congress,” the senator said. “It is time for the legislative body to act and reassert its constitutional role as the branch of government with the sole power to decide when the United States goes on the offensive.”