Reading Room

Congress Debates Trump’s New, Low-Yield Nuclear Weapon

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Posted by Kathy Crandall Robinson

This May and June, Congress debated and voted on measures to restrict the Trump Administration’s proposed low-yield W76-2 nuclear warhead planned to be deployed on a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile. This new weapon is featured in the Trump Nuclear Posture Review and is being pushed forward rapidly, rushing the regular budget and congressional oversight process. (See the TVC Spring 2019 Citizen Watch Newsletter.)

While the congressional debate was constructive and evidenced rising champions in Congress opposing this dangerous and destabilizing new weapon, much work is needed now. Members of Congress must better understand the dangers of this weapon and it is now it the crucial moment for them to hear concerns about this weapon from constituents.

Key House Votes

On May 9, the House Armed Services Committee considered the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Ranking member of the Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA-9) offered an amendment to eliminate the authorization of this low-yield warhead. The amendment was defeated 28-33 with all committee Democrats supporting the amendment.

When the NDAA was considered by the entire House on May 23, Reps. John Garamendi (D- CA-3) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) offered an amendment to fence money for the warhead pending a report from the Department of Defense assessing the impacts on strategic stability. This amendment lost 188-226.

During committee consideration of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act (Energy and Water), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA- 13) initiated debate on the W76-2 with an amendment that was offered and withdrawn to cut funding for the W76-2. See the video of the Committee debate here. Then on June 7, with Energy and Water on the Floor, the full House voted on Rep. Lee’s amendment to shift all low-yield warhead spending in NNSA’s budget ($65 million) to nonproliferation programs. The vote on this amendment failed 177-241.

Note that Rep. Lee received an award from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability at its 30th Anniversary DC Days. Scott Yundt, TVC Staff Attorney and constituent of Rep. Lee, presented the award.

Key Senate Votes

When the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) considered the NDAA, May 21-23 (in closed committee), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) offered an amendment to fence (restrict) money for deployment of the W76-2 pending a Department of Defense report on cost, schedule, and program implications of the development of the program. This amendment failed 11-16 with two Democrat Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joining all SASC Republicans in voting against the amendment. An amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to weaken congressional oversight of the research and development process for low-yield nuclear weapons was approved on a 14-13 party line vote. (All Democrats voted against the Cruz amendment.)

When the full Senate considered the NDAA beginning on June 13, Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI, ranking Senator on SASC) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) offered an amendment requiring Congress to authorize any work to develop new types of nuclear weapons (low-yield or other new weapons). A vote on a motion to table, or reject, the amendment failed 47-51, with all Democrats and three Republican Senators – Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – voting the right way. Unfortunately, the amendment ended up losing in further procedural blockages.

On June 18, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) voted against the entire NDAA (which passed 85-10), stating “While I support our troops and the many key provisions in the defense bill, I voted against it because of the dangerous provisions authorizing a new low-yield nuclear weapon and removing congressional oversight.” Read her full press statement here.

At the May 24 Senate Appropriations Committee consideration of the Energy and Water Development bill, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered an amendment to move all funding for the W76-2 to Department of Energy infrastructure. The amendment failed 12-19. with three Appropriations Committee Democrats, Sens. Jean Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT) voting with all committee Republicans in opposing the amendment. On June 21-25, when the full Senate considered the Energy and Water Appropriations Development bill, amendments proposed by Sens. Feinstein, Reed, Merkley and Ed Markey (D-MA) to curtail the W76-2 were not voted on.

On the June 28 Appropriations Committee consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill, Sen. Merkley’s amendment fencing money for deployment of the low-yield warhead until the Department of Defense produces a report on implications of deployment passed on a voice vote - reportedly garnering support of all Democrats and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Conference on the House and Senate versions of the NDAA and Energy and Water Appropriations is beginning now. The full Senate is expected to take up consideration of the Defense Appropriations in July and the House has completed its Defense Appropriations consideration (without amendments on the low-yield weapon.)

Now is the crucial moment for your Members of Congress to hear your opposition to this new dangerous low-yield weapon. You can use the Capitol Switchboard to reach your members of Congress at (202) 224-3121.

Also, offer thanks and encouragement to key champions, especially California’s Sen. Feinstein and Reps. Garamendi and Lee for their leadership on this issue