The $100 billion dollar man

Senator Ed Markey wants to slash nuclear weapons spending and get the US back to the negotiating table with North Korea

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“The Libya model as Kim Jong-un has been interpreting it, is that it’s one where the leader of the country surrenders their nuclear capability only to then be overthrown and killed. Why would you not think that Kim would not interpret that, as it continued to escalate with John Bolton on the Sunday shows, with the Vice President talking about the Gaddafi model? Why would you think that there would be any other interpretation than what happened to Gaddafi at the end of his denuclearization, which is that he wound up dead? Why would you think that would not in fact elicit hostility from a negotiating partner only three weeks from sitting down across the table?”

The man on the receiving end of this May 24th peppering was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The gentle barrage came during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing after the North Korean regime reacted with unsurprising offense to National Security Advisor John Bolton’s reference to the 2003 disarming of Libya as the model for the White House approach to “denuclearizing” North Korea.

As we already know, the North Korean response — along with its accurate assessment of Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” — prompted President Trump to call off the talks and accuse North Korea of “tremendous anger and open hostility.” And then say the talks were back on. Maybe. And then….who knows?

But who was grilling Pompeo? Many might spot his identity from the style of the written transcript alone. It is reasonable, tinged with humor, polite but persistent. To the point. For those unfamiliar with the speaker, the answer is the same as another question: Who is the US anti-nuclear movement’s most enduring and steadfast ally in Congress? That person would be Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.


Senator Ed Markey was honored by the Alliance For Nuclear Accountability for his decades of dedication to the anti-nuclear cause.

Markey has fought alongside us for decades on both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Both he, and The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability recently reminded us of this during the ANA Capitol Hill awards night on May 22. The event was part of ANA’s annual DC Days lobbying effort. Markey was one of two Congressional recipients of an ANA award, along with another stalwart champion, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

“You are who I have been fighting with, as a partner, since the first day I walked into this building,” he told the appreciative crowd. That first day was more than 42 years ago.

Markey was in the US House of Representatives from 1976 to 2013 before becoming a US Senator, winning the seat vacated by John Kerry when he was appointed President Obama’s Secretary of State. Before that, he was in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1973-76. (See the amusing campaign ad video below from 1976 during Markey’s first, and successful, run for the US Congress.)

Known for his oratorical gifts, marked by a strong Massachusetts accent and considerable wit, Markey has exhibited leadership on the anti-nuclear front with unrelenting persistence. In 2008, he challenged the George W. Bush administration’s deal to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia. Why would Saudi Arabia, a country that “has more than 300 days of blazing sun a year,” need nuclear power, Markey asked in a June 10, 2008 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

During a May 22, 2008 oversight hearing of the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, of which Markey was chairman, the then Congressman asked Bush Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman:

“But aren’t you suspicious that the Saudis don’t want a solar agreement? Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar. There it is. It sits there as a desert with sun 12 months a year, blistering hot. Why wouldn’t this administration be suspicious that they are asking for nuclear rather than solar power exchange in order to meet their long-term energy needs?”

How little has changed since then, as the Trump administration prepares to sign a nuclear energy deal with Saudi Arabia that may not require what Markey referred to at the ANA event as the “gold standard, or a commitment from Saudi Arabia not to enrich or reprocess nuclear materials that can be used in nuclear bombs.”

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear aspirations was just one of many topics Markey touched on in his ANA acceptance speech. Noting that “the Trump administration has reversed decades of US leadership towards a nuclear weapons-free world,” he called out Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review as a roadmap for a new nuclear arms race.

“President Trump, who has threatened other countries with ‘fire and fury,’ wants new, more usable nuclear weapons,” said Markey. “He wants so-called low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Low-yield nuclear weapons. That’s like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or Salt Lake City nightlife. It doesn’t exist. Low-yield nuclear weapons is a contradiction in terms. What are they talking about?”

It’s why Markey, and his Democratic colleague in the House of Representatives, Ted Lieu of California, have introduced their Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons act. The bill, explained Markey “says no American president, especially President Donald Trump, should be able to unilaterally launch nuclear weapons without provocation, without consultation, without warning and without the United States having been attacked with nuclear weapons.”


Congressman Ted Lieu (L) and Senator Ed Markey have introduced a bill to prevent the US President from pressing the nuclear button unprovoked.

Getting co-sponsors and eventually passage of this bill is made especially urgent because of the irrationality and volatility of those occupying the White House and positions of power within the current administration.

Trump, says Markey, “has indicated he would use nuclear weapons against a ‘significant non-nuclear strategic attack.’ That sounds like a cyber attack to me. Does anyone in this room really think it’s a good idea to threaten a nuclear response to a cyber attack on the United States?” Markey continued. “That moment in history where we use nuclear weapons to respond to a cyber attack will make every other issue that we are debating here in this building a footnote in history, because all history will be measured by that moment when a nuclear weapon is used in response to a cyber attack.”

Markey is no stranger to introducing bills on nuclear weapons. On May 25, 2017, he and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation that would cut $100 billion from the wasteful $1 trillion nuclear weapons budget over the next decade. The Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act is also known as the SANE Act, a nice nod to Markey’s SANE-Freeze roots. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

But the bill that perhaps gave Markey the most — and most welcome — notoriety, was also the reason he was the only politician allowed to speak at the now historic June 12, 1982 Central Park Nuclear Freeze rally, known as The March for Disarmament, that drew more than a million people. It was, he said, “because I had introduced the Nuclear Freeze resolution in the House of Representatives.” (Watch an excerpt of the event below including an interview with Joan Baez beginning at 11:20.)

The Central Park peace rally was a proud moment, when people power did make a difference, Markey observed. “And absolutely amazing, this building, we had gone from no co-sponsors on March 1st of 1982 to my having 200 co-sponsors by June of 1982 because the grassroots rose up in this country to say with all the common sense that is imaginable that the problem with the nuclear arms race IS the nuclear arms race. It’s the very mentality that drives the entire insanity of more nuclear weapons making the world a safer place to live.”

As the audience applauded, Markey reminded them that they are still needed. Many, if not most, in the room, had doubtless been in Central Park on that memorable June day, almost 36 years ago.

“We need a movement to stand up to the Trump administration and its gold-plated defense industry allies looking to build more bombs and demand that we invest instead in more education, not invest in annihilation,” he urged.

“We need this movement to call out the Trump administration’s nuclear modernization effort for what it is, nothing more than a budgetary boondoggle that will not add anything to the defense of the United States of America. In fact it will make us less safe because our enemies, our adversaries, will become more fearful, more likely that they keep their finger on their buttons that could trigger an accidental nuclear war,” Markey continued. “That is what Donald Trump is driving us inexorably, inevitably and eventually toward, in this country and on this Planet.”

At this point the enthusiastic whooping and hollering at each Markey zinger began to abate. Markey had touched on proposals to revive the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump; on new nuclear weapons plans; on Saudi Arabia; on Russia; on North Korea. The grim reality of our nuclear peril hung heavily in the room.

“We cannot squander funding on nuclear weapons, on nuclear programs, on nuclear repositories that we do not need and instead steal that money from the mouths of children who need a food stamp program, or elderly who need care in nursing homes,” Markey went on. “We cannot make that choice in good conscience which is why I am so proud to be here with you. Because the least we should be able to say, if a nuclear war does break out in North Korea, is that we tried, we really tried to avoid that catastrophic outcome.”

And once more, as we rose to leave the room, we resolved to do exactly that: to keep on trying.

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