By Brian Howey
Freshman Indiana senators have had their share of initial tumult after joining the world’s most exclusive club, and U.S. Sen. Todd Young is no exception.
U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh came off an election during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 to his first year in the Senate with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, setting him on a path to draft the 25th Amendment a year later. Young’s not facing an impeachment trial of a sitting U.S. president, but U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh did when he arrived to his seat in 1999 with President Bill Clinton facing judgment.
Three months after Sen. Dan Quayle took the oath in 1981, President Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated, with the future vice president helping to pass his historic tax cuts several months later. And Young is not facing as vivid a prospect of a government shutdown as U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly did when he switched chambers in 2013.
But Young faces turmoil in the era of President Trump, with scandal, a potential nuclear war for the first time since 1973, the president’s bromance with Russian President Putin and stinging criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies.
A day before I conducted a phone interview with Young, he called for Republican Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore to step aside, citing “the appearance of grossly reprehensible behavior.” Just minutes before we talked, Young found himself questioning former U.S. Strategic Command and Department of Defense officials about Trump’s potential for launching a preemptive nuclear strike after he once promised “fire and fury” for North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.
Young questioned Robert Kehler, former commander of the United States Strategic Command, about restrictions on a potential Trump use of nuclear weapons, with Kehler telling him, “Conflicting signals can result in loss of confidence, confusion or paralysis in the operating forces at a critical moment.”
“Is the standard … to conclude that no reasonable order be proportional, or is there some other legal standard left?” Young asked at one point. Former Defense analyst Brian McKeon told him, “It would be a judgment of senior military officers” who have “30 to 40 years of military experience to make these assessments.”
What were Young’s takeaways from the nuclear authority hearing? “Congress is duly exercising our oversight responsibility regarding this incredibly dangerous time for our country,” he said. “The second thing is the operational ability. There are legal principles that govern their involvement in the decision to use this force. Those principles aren’t maybe as clear as black-letter law. If any member of the military feels an order received is inconsistent with existing legal norms, it’s their responsibility to make that known through their seniors and, if necessary, to resign their position.”
Young added that the U.S. needs to “maintain a measure of calculated ambiguity as a country as it relates to the use our most devastating weapons. We don’t want to telegraph to our adversaries or to our allies that any military options are off the table.”
Asked about comments Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, along with Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, who questioned President Trump’s fitness for office, with Corker fearing a potential “World War III,” Young responded, “My perspective about our duly elected president of the United States is I remain determined to work with him and with everyone to ensure that we remain safe and secure as a country and we grow our economy. I don’t want to undermine my ability to serve Hoosiers by commenting on these things on a regular basis.”
Twice this year President Trump has said there is a U.S. nuclear sub off the Korean peninsula, something that Sen. Joe Donnelly has called a “serious breach” of security. Is he concerned? “I take the protection of our intelligence very seriously and I think everyone in the government should. I’ll leave it at that.”
In June, Young said a potential war on the Korean peninsula was a real possibility. Does it remain that way? “I think Hoosiers still need to be of that mindset,” Young said. “If I were to communicate anything else, I think it would be intimating we’re taking military options off the table as a country, undermining our ability to arrive at a peaceful diplomatic solution. With that said, I commend the administration for their fulsome diplomatic efforts thus far, diplomacy backed by the credible threat of military force.”
Recently, President Trump said he believed Russian President Putin didn’t “meddle” in the U.S. election. Does Young believe Putin? “No.1, there’s something known as a diplomatic lie that is often deployed by sophisticated diplomats and leaders in furtherance of our national interest. Let’s keep that in mind,” he explained. “No. 2, our intelligence community, which I trust, has indicated that Russia has hacked our elections. It never indicated that Russia has influenced our elections.”
As for Trump calling U.S. intelligence officials “political hacks,” Young said, “I think we should trust our nation’s intelligence. I respect those who serve with distinction from the ranks of our inner intelligence community, from the rank and file who serve in that capacity, to the leaders of our intelligence community.”
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at howeypolitics.com. Send comments to email@example.com.