Since President Donald Trump and the first lady both tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the news cycle has been in a tailspin.
The coronavirus has sidelined the commander in chief from at least some of his duties. So, it makes sense to ask whether China, Russia or other actors that don’t have the United States' best interests in mind might take advantage of this precarious moment for their own gain.
Garrett Graff, a writer and national security analyst, has been thinking a lot about that. He spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about how foreign adversaries may take advantage of the US in this moment.
Garrett Graff: You see various aides and various members of the National Security Council testing positive for COVID-19, isolating themselves, being treated themselves, or the president is physically unable to be in a room with his top military and government officials. And frankly, this is a West Wing that as of today is simply concerned with its own health. They physically don't know who among them is sick and how far this virus has spread in their own ranks. That's a recipe for instability and uncertainty. That is the type of opportunity foreign adversaries would normally try to take advantage of even before you begin to factor in that we are just weeks away from what was already promising to be a fraught, and potentially challenging, election.
Presumably, he is continuing to get briefings all the time. If Mike Pence actually does have to step in at some point under what's called the acting president procedures, and powers officially transferred to him using the 25th Amendment — let's say if the president's condition worsens, or he undergoes a medical treatment requiring anesthesia — one of the oddities is that actually, vice presidents are typically even better informed about US intelligence than presidents because they have more time to spend receiving intelligence briefings.
The president's intelligence briefing generally takes place now on an iPad. And so, it would be relatively easy to continue that briefing in a socially distanced way. I mean, there's a much larger issue that throughout this administration, the president has actually not paid that much attention to his briefings, that they have been sort of dumbed down and had to be rewritten with more graphics and less information because of how boring the president finds most of the routine intelligence briefings that he receives.
Yeah, it's hard to say how much is really changing in this moment. Except this is just a massive distraction. It's easy to forget how fraught and challenging this year has already been — as you have seen, China has used the pandemic as cover to move against the freedom and independence of Hong Kong. Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in an outright war right now heavily influenced by regional powers, Russia and Turkey. India and China, 2-billion-person, nuclear-armed countries, are continuing to have border clashes that have erupted in fighting and casualties for the first time since the 1970s. There's a lot of stuff going on in the world right now. And having the West Wing and having the National Security Council focused hour by hour on how healthy they are themselves — that's a problem for national security and stability around the world.
Perhaps not physically in the room. But the nuclear football, which is carried by a rotating set of five military aides, is never far from him physically. It rides with him in an elevator if he's in an elevator. It is in the third golf cart behind the president's golf cart if he is on the course. It is always close by.
We don't have a good mechanism politically, militarily, legally, constitutionally, to deal with a president who is not mentally fit to be president. And in fact, the 25th Amendment, which does lay out a procedure for removing the president with the ascent of the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet, that's a pretty blunt instrument and a politically fraught one to deal with mental instability and not physical disability.
For me, it is all about this month's election security, not just in terms of the president and his health, but also the questions that he has been trying to inject into the process over recent weeks about the legitimacy of the election itself and putting out the message that if he loses, it is because the election has been stolen from him. You know, that basic premise of a peaceful transition of power has long been a bedrock of American democracy. And this president openly questioning it as recently as this past weekend is very troubling for the groundwork that it is laying for what might happen in the hours after the polls close on Nov. 3.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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