On Saturday night, North Korea allegedly detonated a hydrogen bomb, the latest escalation in a back-and-forth between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. If the small Asian country did indeed detonate a hydrogen bomb successfully, it would be the first time North Korea has conducted a nuclear weapons test since Trump, who has promised "fire and fury," came to office. But how will Trump respond to North Korea? While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he is creating tougher sanctions against the impoverished totalitarian state, it seems like that if Trump wants to take military action, he will have to reckon with Congress.
On Sunday morning, several hours after a North Korean state media outlet had announced the detonation, Trump issued his preliminary response on Twitter. "North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States," he tweeted. "North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success," he added. "South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!" The president did not clarify what he meant by "one thing," but given his previous statements about unleashing "fire and fury" on North Korea, it would be reasonable to think that the president is considering militaristic options.
Bearing down further on North Korea in terms of economics is certainly on the table, according to the Treasury secretary. “We’ve already started with sanctions against North Korea, but I’m going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration that anybody who wants to do trade or business with them is prevented from doing trade or business with us,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday," according to The Washington Post.
Given Trump's belligerent language, some in Washington, D.C., are already thinking about what the president could or could not do in terms of military actions. According to experts, Trump could strike North Korea without Congress's approval if Kim were to strike the U.S. first. However, if Trump wanted to strike first, he would need Congress. "It's probably the case that Congress could not stop the President from defending the United States from an imminent attack. It probably is the case that Congress could prevent the President from launching offensive military operations without provocation. And all of the fight is over the gray area in between those two points," Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN. "Where the line is between defense and offense?"
It is this gray zone that the president and Congress will have to navigate together as they respond to North Korea's continued threats. But it seems that most in D.C. agree that what Trump must be most careful with is his penchant for aggressive tweets: “You gotta watch the tweets,” Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, told CNN, according to the Post. “Mr. President, this is not a manhood issue; this is a national security issue. Don’t let your pride get in the way of wise policy here.”