North Korea's nuclear program advancement has been a major concern on Capitol Hill
President Donald Trump threatened to unleash "fire and fury against the country
Several key congressional leaders say they have yet to hear from the White House on the administration’s North Korea strategy as President Donald Trump has ratcheted up his rhetoric threatening “fire and fury” against Pyongyang.
While intelligence committee and “Gang of Eight” members report some engagement on North Korea, Democrats say the lack of updates from the White House on the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula is alarming.
“We are not receiving updates or briefings at all. The legislative branch of the US government is hearing about these developments on Twitter at the same time as Kim Jong Un,” said Ben Marter, a spokesman for the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
A Democratic aide said the engagement from the administration on North Korea was “not much and not enough,” saying there was “limited member engagement and only some staff level engagement.”
The recent advancements of North Korea’s nuclear program have been a major concern on Capitol Hill this year. In April the White House took the rare step of inviting all 100 senators to the White House for a classified briefing on North Korea.
But the threat escalated in a major way this week, amid reports that US intelligence agencies assess that North Korea has the produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead. Trump responded by threatening to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” which in turn prompted Pyongyang to threaten Guam, a US territory where 6,000 US troops are stationed.
The developments with North Korea have occurred while Congress has largely deserted Washington for its month-long August recess, leaving the President’s comments to stand for themselves without much chance for congressional leaders to weigh in or potentially moderate his rhetoric.
As a result, formal briefings can be difficult.
Senate armed services committee aides said that administration has not offered the committees any formal briefings on North Korea. A Senate foreign relations committee aide said there have been no member-level briefings on North Korea this week. The committee has requested a briefing from the administration on North Korea, the aide added.
There is some discussion, however, particularly connected to intelligence and the “Gang of Eight” — the Republican and Democrat leaders of House and Senate and the intelligence committees who are briefed by the administration on intelligence matters.
A Senate intelligence committee source said the committee’s staff have held a series of briefings across the intelligence community on the situation in North Korea.
The briefings were described by the source as part of the regular and frequent updates the intelligence community provides, and the committee has not heard from the White House or National Security Council, the source said.
Asked about administration outreach on North Korea, an aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a member of the Gang of Eight, said: “We are briefed and updated regularly from all relevant departments and agencies as well as the White House.”
Where Trump is reaching out is in discussions with individual lawmakers that he regularly speaks with, including Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The South Carolina Republican told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he’s spoken with the President about the dilemma of pre-emptively striking North Korea to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon that could hit the United States.
“If negotiations fail, he is willing to abandon strategic patience and use preemption,” Graham said. “I think he’s there mentally. He has told me this. Now the question for him is what are the options available to him under the preemption scenario? He’s thinking long and hard about it. His rhetoric yesterday, I think, is a change that is probably necessary.”