4 min read

Nukes in space?

A lawmaker’s cryptic message led to frenzied speculation across Washington.
Nukes in space?
Rep. Mike Turner. (Defense Department)

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House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) sparked a firestorm in Washington on Wednesday when he called on the Biden administration to declassify intelligence relating to a “serious national security threat” — without giving any detail as to what the threat was.

According to The New York Times, the intelligence was that Russia is making advances towards a “new, space-based nuclear weapon designed to threaten America’s extensive satellite network.” Here’s more from The Times:

Such a satellite-killing weapon, if deployed, could destroy civilian communications, surveillance from space and military command-and control operations by the United States and its allies. At the moment, the United States does not have the ability to counter such a weapon and defend its satellites, a former official said.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by the U.S., Russia, and more than 100 other countries, prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons in space.

After Turner’s statement, other lawmakers quickly rushed to calm concerns. “There is no need for public alarm,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) told reporters. “We are going to work together to address this matter, as we do all sensitive matters that are classified.”

The Biden administration — which is set to brief key House leaders on the issue today but has indicated no plans to declassify the intelligence — expressed displeasure that Turner had gone public about the threat.

Taking a step back: The fracas over a potential space-based nuke comes as lawmakers are debating ways to advance a Senate-passed bill that would provide about $60 billion to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Turner, breaking with the bulk of his party in the House, has been a key advocate for Ukraine aid — leading some observers to wonder if his unusual statement forcing the intelligence into public view was a way to rally Republicans against Russia.

Even the Kremlin joined in on the speculation: “It is obvious that the White House is trying, by hook or by crook, to encourage Congress to vote on a bill to allocate money [for Ukraine],” Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, denying the allegations reportedly contained in the underlying intelligence.

More news to know.

Speaker Mike Johnson. (Gage Skidmore)

Speaker Johnson is having a bad week. His slim majority is even slimmer after the Democratic special election victory in New York on Tuesday. His committee chairs are fleeing. He was forced to punt a House vote on renewing a key intelligence authority. And he suffered yet another procedural defeat on Wednesday, the sixth time this Congress that Republicans have rejected a rule backed by their own leaders.

It all adds up to Johnson emerging as a historically weak speaker of the House. Politico put it best: “Now, in his fourth month in alleged power, Speaker Mike Johnson has accomplished what once seemed unthinkable: making [Kevin] McCarthy seem like a skilled strategist and master of the House.”

More headlines:

Israel: Israel pulls out of peace talks over “delusional” Hamas demands (Bloomberg)

Border: After border bill failure, ICE considers mass releases to close budget gap (WaPo)

Guns: Gunfire at Chiefs’ Super Bowl celebration kills 1 and wounds nearly two dozen, including children (AP)

Investigations: Biden critic who once worked with Hunter tells lawmakers Joe Biden was “enabler” of son's overseas business (ABC)

2024: Democrats think they’ve found a winning border message (Semafor)

Impossible to categorize: George Santos puts former congressional colleagues in group chat to call them ‘f***ing idiots’ (Semafor)

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden has nothing on his public schedule besides receiving his daily intelligence briefing. Vice President Harris will touch down in Munich, Germany, where she will attend the Munich Security Conference later this week.

Congress: The House is expected to vote on a measure that would roll back the Biden administration’s pause on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The Senate is on recess.

Courts: The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s Manhattan indictment — which stems from his hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels — is expected to rule on whether the case will go to trial next month. Trump will be in attendance at the hearing.

Meanwhile, in his Georgia election interference case, a hearing will be held on a motion from one of Trump’s co-defendants to disqualify prosecutor Fani Willis over allegations that she benefited financially from hiring an investigator who she is now in a personal relationship with.

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