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An atomic bomb test in Nevada in 1957. Photo: © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to members on Friday that she's spoken to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley about preventing President Trump from accessing the nuclear codes.

Why it matters: Pelosi's message surfaced an uncomfortable reality about America's nuclear control structure: if the president wants to use nukes, there is no clear way to stop him.

What's happening: In her message, Pelosi mentioned discussing "available precautions" around Trump and the nuclear codes.Reality check: Such precautions do not exist.

Be smart: For all the destructive power of nuclear weapons, a different factor dictates America's command and control structure: their speed.

  • Absolute presidential control of the nuclear arsenal was solidified in part out of the realization that the speed of nuclear war would not allow for lengthy debates.
  • If a U.S. president were alerted that ICBMs were inbound from Russia, there might be as few as 10 minutes to decide whether to retaliate before the missiles reached their destination.
  • That time pressure doesn't exist in the case of an American first use of nuclear weapons. But as an unprecedented Senate hearing in 2017 made clear, while protocol calls for the president to consult with several officers and officials before launching nuclear weapons, "the president has no obligation to take the officers' advice," Kaplan wrote.

Flashback: President Obama reportedly weighed ruling out first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, but never went through with it.

  • Sen. Edward Markey drafted a bill in 2019 blocking the president from launching a first strike without congressional consent, but it never went to a vote.

The bottom line: The power to use the most devastating weapons ever devised rests in the president's hands.

Go deeper

Trump supporter found with pipe bombs accused of plot to attack Democrats

Five improvised explosive devices that the FBI says "were fully operational and could cause great bodily harm or injury if handled improperly." Photo: FBI/Justice Department

The FBI believes California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and the Bay Area headquarters of Twitter and Facebook were targets of a man facing federal explosives charges, according to a criminal complaint.

Driving the news: Prosecutors charged Ian Benjamin Rogers after finding weapons including five pipe bombs, 49 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition following a Jan. 15 search of his Napa County home and auto repair business. His alleged goal was to ensure former President Trump remained in office.

Senate Republicans block voting rights bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, 2022. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Republicans blocked Democrats' voting rights legislation from coming to a final vote on Wednesday in what was largely viewed as a doomed effort from the start.

Why it matters: The failed vote underscores the Democratic Party's current uphill battle to pass sweeping legislation in a 50-50 Senate.

Updated 19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."