House Democrats rebuffed attempts by Republicans Wednesday to authorize funding for so-called low-yield nuclear weapons that the Trump administration says are key to deterring Russia.
Republicans put forward two amendments to fund the weapons in a defense bill, but both were rejected in a voice vote Wednesday. A formal roll-call vote on the amendments was planned for later.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., eliminated funding in the legislation for low-yield nuclear weapons that could be placed on submarines. He said the weapons increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming accused Smith of "disarming" America. "It is unilateral disarmament by definition," Cheney said. "This is a capability that our adversaries have, it is a capability that they have the ability to deploy."
The Trump administration has taken a number of steps away from traditional nuclear arms control, including the adoption of a nuclear strategy that involves developing new weapons to counter Russia and the suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. Critics warn the steps could spark another nuclear arms race.
The top Republican on the committee, Mac Thornberry of Texas, spoke out in support of the nuclear weapons and said the chairman's opposition reflects "this underlying notion that we've got to tie our own hands and therefore the world will be safer."
Nuclear policy issues will likely reemerge in the Republican-controlled Senate. The House and Senate will have to negotiate a final version of the annual policy bill before it becomes law.
Debate over the defense bill is also expected to address the future of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center. Republicans support building a new high-value detention facility at Guantanamo, while Democrats are pushing for detainees to be transferred to the U.S. for medical treatment. Smith is also pushing for a ban on any new detainees being brought to the facility.
Republicans and Democrats also disagree over the total amount of money needed to properly fund the Pentagon and nuclear elements of the Energy Department. The White House requested a $750 billion budget, but Smith said a slightly smaller budget of $733 billion would promote efficiency.
Budget items supported by Democrats and Republicans include some conventional and hypersonic weapons systems as well as a 3.1% military pay raise, investments in cyber security and reforms aimed at military housing and sexual assault prevention.