The entire US Senate will head to the White House to attend a briefing on North Korea from four top Trump administration officials Wednesday, press secretary Sean Spicer announced Monday.
But though it’s unusual for all 100 senators to head to the White House grounds at once, Spicer also stressed that the briefing was not initiated by the White House but by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office — a clarification perhaps made to tamp down any speculation that the administration is considering imminent military action in North Korea.
“This is a Senate briefing convened by the majority leader, not a White House briefing. We are just serving as the location. For further questions, I would direct you to the majority leader’s office,” Spicer said.
Tensions with North Korea have risen in recent days preceding and following the country’s failed missile test. One anonymously sourced report from NBC News claimed that the US was considering a preemptive strike against the nation — an action that could initiate a major war in Asia.
But other officials strongly pushed back against the NBC report, telling Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin that it was “wildly wrong” and “extremely dangerous.” And of course, no such strike materialized before the attempted missile test last week.
Indeed, despite the tough-sounding rhetoric from the Trump administration, it’s not clear whether their policy is actually changing all that much. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all began their terms by saying their predecessors’ North Korea policies failed and that a new approach of some kind was necessary.
However, all of them calculated that actual military action was far too risky, because it could well result in massive destruction and loss of life in both North and South Korea. “One war game convened by the Atlantic back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone,” Alex Ward writes.
It’s also worth noting that in contrast to, say, the hours preceding Trump’s Syria strike, there does not appear to be buzz on Capitol Hill that any sort of attack on North Korea is imminent.
So another possible reason for the briefing is that administration officials — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford — will discuss further toughening of economic pressure on North Korea.
And the Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe suggest yet another theory, writing that lawmakers and aides are questioning whether the unusual setting means the Trump administration “intends to use the event as a photo op ahead of its 100-day mark,” since these large group briefings with classified information typically take place on Capitol Hill.