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Congressman John Conyers

Representing the 13th District of Michigan

Rep. Conyers, Sen. Markey & 60 Members of Congress Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional Power Over a First Strike on North Korea

October 26, 2017
Press Release
Legislation would ensure no funds are used to launch an unconstitutional strike that experts say would lead to catastrophic war on the Korean Peninsula

Washington (October 26, 2017) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) led more than 60 members of Congress in introducing new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to ensure that President Donald Trump cannot attack North Korea without the approval of Congress by prohibiting any expenditure of funds for such a strike. The No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017 restricts funds available to the Department of Defense or to any other federal department or agency from being used to launch a military strike against North Korea without the prior approval of Congress or the imperative to respond to an attack against the United States or its allies. Recent polling demonstrates that more than two-thirds of the American people believe that the United States should attack North Korea only if North Korea attacks first.

“As a veteran of the Korean War, I am ashamed that our Commander-in-Chief is conducting himself in a reckless manner that endangers our troops stationed in South Korea and our regional allies,” said Rep. Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee and the only Democrat in Congress to have served in the Korean War. “That is why Congress is standing up today to ensure that this Administration understands that the Constitution does not permit military attacks without Congressional approval. 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. 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.”

“President 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,” said Senator Markey, Ranking Member of the Senate East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee. “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. 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. I thank Congressman Conyers for his partnership on this legislation and will continue to press for a diplomatic solution to the threat of a nuclear North Korea.”

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. The bipartisan House version of the legislation, H.R. 4140, is co-led by Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) and has 61 co-sponsors. 

The Conyers-Markey legislation adds an additional safeguard to the current prohibitions on waging war or unprovoked military action without Congressional approval by restricting any funds for such a strike unless there is an authorization from Congress that comports with well-established legal and constitutional standards. There are exceptions to account for current legal and constitutional standards for repelling a sudden attack, defending our allies, and rescuing U.S. personnel. The legislation also calls for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Both the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973 already require an affirmative authorization from Congress before the Executive Branch can initiate military action abroad against a state that has not attacked the U.S. or our assets abroad.  As Section 2 of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 states, absent a declaration of war or a specific statutory authorization approved by Congress, only “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” can justify military action undertaken without Congressional authorization.

The legislation cites words of the framers of the Constitution, such as George Washington, who wrote that ‘‘The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure’’ (Letter from George Washington to William Moultrie, August 28, 1793). The legislation also cites James Madison, who wrote that ‘‘The power to declare war, including the power of judging the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature… the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war’’ (Madison Papers, ‘‘Helvidius’’, Number 4, September 14, 1793).

The legislation is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ploughshares Fund, Council for a Livable World, Arms Control Association, Win Without War, Indivisible, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, Union of Concerned Scientists, Beyond the Bomb, Women Cross DMZ, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Global Zero, Korea Peace Campaign, Veterans For Peace, Women's Action for New Directions, Women for Genuine Security, United Methodist Women, Action One Korea, GoodFriends USA, Presbyterian Church USA, Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, and the National Association of Korean Americans.

In August 2017, Conyers led more than 60 Members of Congress in sending  an urgent letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to express “profound concern” over “irresponsible and dangerous” statements made by President Trump regarding North Korea and to urge Tillerson to do everything in his 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.”

In May 2017, Conyers led a letter signed by 64 Democratic Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, to rebuke President Trump’s inconsistent and dangerous statements regarding U.S. policy towards North Korea, notify him that military strikes without Congressional approval would violate the Constitution, and urge him to instead adhere to the diplomatic approach recently articulated by his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The 64 signers represented the 64 years since the Armistice Agreement was signed to end hostilities in the Korean War.

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