| USA TODAY
Iran to limit UN inspector access to nuclear sites
As President Joe Biden makes his opening moves to revive and build upon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran fueled its pressure campaign on the West by saying it will begin to offer United Nations inspectors less access to its nuclear program. (Feb. 23)
The claim: Dozens of House Democrats are calling on President Joe Biden to relinquish his sole control over launching a nuclear attack
President Joe Biden has faced questions during the 2020 campaign and since his inauguration from conservative media and supporters of former President Donald Trump who claim that he is mentally unfit for office.
Now, they are pointing to a letter that a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives sent the president this week to question whether members of Biden’s own party trust him with the power over U.S. nuclear codes.
The letter, first reported by Politico and signed by more than 30 House Democrats, urges Biden to consider alternatives to “vesting one person” with the authority to launch a nuclear attack. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., tweeted on Tuesday that he was calling on Biden “to install checks & balances in our nuclear command-and-control structure. Past presidents have threatened nuclear attacks on other countries or exhibited concerning behavior that cast doubt on their judgment.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity teased a segment about the letter on his show by asking in a tweet “Do the Democrats trust Biden?”
BizPacReview, which bills itself as a “political news website that provides breaking news and analysis unfiltered by the liberal bias that has eroded the media’s credibility,” connected the letter to the claims about Biden’s “mental status.”
BizPacReview senior managing editor Michelle Kirk said in an email that the outlet stands behind its story and that “I am sure you will find the facts of our story 100% accurate.”
“President Biden’s mental state has been a prominent and open discussion for the last few years. We have made no medical claims nor have we ‘linked’ the letter in this story to any specific claims,” she said.
What the Democrats’ letter requested
Panetta and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., led the letter’s 31 signatories. They wrote to raise concerns about a system that concentrates the power to launch a nuclear attack with one individual and to offer alternatives.
And they note Biden’s “distinguished record and leadership on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation as senator and vice president” in asking him to dismantle that system and “install additional checks and balances.”
“You alone possess the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, which assures that nuclear weapons remain under civilian control,” the letter said. “However, vesting one person with this authority entails real risk. Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concerns about the president’s judgment.”
The letter cites Trump’s 2018 tweet about commanding a more powerful nuclear arsenal than North Korea and a report that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff about Trump’s nuclear command authority soon after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
It also points to a report that former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger ordered military commanders to check first with him before launching any nuclear attack ordered by President Richard Nixon near the end of Nixon’s presidency.
“While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” they wrote, noting that the military would be obligated to carry out a lawful order, potentially within minutes.
They offered several alternatives, such as concurrence from others in the presidential line of succession, or requiring certification of an order’s legality from both the secretary of defense and the attorney general, with concurrence from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or secretary of state.
Congressional authorization, including a declaration of war, or a “permanent active council of congressional leaders” also could be used as alternatives to the president alone holding that power, they wrote.
Biden’s ‘mental state’
BizPacReview connected Democrats sending the letter to Biden’s “mental state,” saying that it came as “concerns increase” about the president’s mental status. Its headline reads “House Dems urge Biden to give up sole control of nuclear codes as mental status concerns brew.”
Kirk disputed that the report linked the two, though, saying that the writer segued “into several paragraphs describing, again, how outside observers continue to show concern over the president’s mental status.”
“The reporter speculated that the letter could be linked to a decline in mental acuity,” she wrote in an email to USA TODAY.
The post on the website pointed to observations from Hannity and Grant Stinchfield, a host on the conservative outlet Newsmax TV.
“The president’s mental state was a topic of discussion in mostly conservative media circles for months ahead of the 2020 elections, while left-leaning outlets mostly avoided the subject,” according to the post.
The National Institute of Aging notes that a medical assessment for dementia includes medical history, physical exam and neurological tests along with brain scans and other tests. But no such information about those tests of Biden exists in the public record.
The president also has been public about a lifelong struggle with a stutter that sometimes affects his speech patterns.
Democrats who signed the letter also made no mention of Biden’s mental state and instead raised concerns about an institutional problem with giving power to launch a nuclear attack to one person, now Biden.
Our rating: Missing context
The claim that dozens of House Democrats are calling on President Joe Biden to relinquish his sole control over launching a nuclear attack is MISSING CONTEXT, because without additional information it could be misleading. A group of about 30 House Democrats sent Biden a letter asking him to consider alternatives, citing concerns with past presidents, including President Donald Trump. Some posts have connected the letter to questions from Trump supporters and conservative media about Biden’s mental state, but previous fact checks have debunked claims that Biden is suffering from dementia, and the letter never raises those questions.
Our fact-check sources:
- Politico, Feb. 23, Morning Defense
- Rep. Jimmy Panetta, Feb. 23, tweet
- Rep. Ted Lieu, Feb. 24, tweet
- The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2018, “Trump Says His ‘Nuclear Button’ Is ‘Much Bigger’ Than North Korea’s“
- The New York Times, Jan. 8, “Pelosi Pressed Pentagon on Safeguards to Prevent Trump From Ordering Military Action“
- Politico Magazine, Aug. 11, 2017, “The Madman and the Bomb“
- USA TODAY, Oct. 1, 2020, “Fact check: Joe Biden faces friendly fire – partly false – over age, pot, prisons and more“
- PolitiFact, Oct. 1, 2020, “Geriatrics experts say Brit Hume’s claim that Joe Biden is ‘senile’ is wrong“
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.