Outgoing President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the White House early has caused serious logistical problems for perhaps the most sensitive section of the presidential handover: the nuclear codes.
The custody of the so-called “nuclear football” is handed over from one presidential aide to another during a normal inauguration ceremony at the stroke of noon.
However, Trump will leave Washington DC and fly to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, at around 8am – bringing the nuclear football with him.
The oddly-shaped 45-pound briefcase that is always at the president’s side contains nuclear attack plans, access to command and control systems and the mechanism for authorizing the nuclear codes.
Also known as the “emergency satchel” or simply “the button”, it is carried by a military aide who remains physically close to the president, ready to carry out the well-rehearsed choreography of command and control.
The handoff will happen differently since Trump decided to be in Florida during Biden’s inauguration, making this the first time in the nuclear age that a sitting president has not attended his successor’s inauguration.
Reports say the Pentagon has long had a plan for the transfer of responsibility in the event of Trump skipping the transfer of power.
A US official said that a military aide will remain beside Trump to Florida while carrying one of the footballs, allowing him to retain sole authority to launch a nuclear strike until 11:59:59 a.m. Wednesday.
Another military aide with a second nuclear football will hand over the authority to Biden once he is sworn in, while the aide with Trump will bring the first football back to Washington.
According to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, this is not the first unusual event surrounding the football.
The location of football “was an issue when JFK assassinated was in Dallas,” said Beschloss.
“Reagan’s nuclear code card was accidentally thrown out at the hospital after he was shot in 1981. Clinton lost his nuclear code card for a few months in 2000.”