A group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wants to strip funding for a new low-yield nuclear warhead out of the Senate’s 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and use the money to develop a plan to help verify North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, should that ever happen.

Markey introduced his amendment to the defense policy bill on the Senate floor Tuesday. The upper chamber has started debate on the NDAA but took no votes Tuesday — coincidentally, the day President Donald Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in a diplomatic overture aimed at convincing the isolated nation to give up its nuclear weapons.

Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile. Photo: Lockheed Martin
Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s NDAA would authorize $65 million in fiscal 2019 funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build a low-yield version of the W76 warhead used on Trident II D5 missiles carried by Ohio-class nuclear submarines. The Trump administration wants the NNSA to build the weapon to counter similarly powerful Russian threats.

Markey’s amendment would steer the money into the NNSA’s defense nuclear nonproliferation account “to develop and prepare to implement a comprehensive, long-term monitoring and verification program for activities related to the phased denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, in coordination with relevant international partners and organizations,” according to the text of the amendment.

Markey has 10 co-sponsors for his amendment: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

As for when the NDAA will pass, “it’s gonna be this week or next week,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), acting chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday during the weekly party stakeout on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.

“We want more amendments, we want an open amendment process. We’re hoping to get to open amendments,” Inhofe said.

Already in the works is a manager’s package with 45 bipartisan, noncontroversial amendments, Inhofe said. The text of those amendments was not public at deadline Tuesday for sister publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.

Meanwhile, the White House on Monday issued a wait-and-see statement of administration policy about the Senate’s NDAA, in which it did not stake out a position on the bill’s proposed policies and spending limits.

The administration issued a more detailed statement about the NDAA passed by the House in May, which did not include specific objections to the lower chamber’s 2019 plans for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapon programs.