President Donald Trump will not be in attendance for President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration this Wednesday, which has many Americans wondering how certain transitional proceedings that traditionally occur on inauguration day will move forward; the handing off of the “nuclear football” being the most discussed proceeding that needs to occur.
The “football” is obviously not a real ball, and contains the equipment that Trump would use to authenticate his orders to launch a nuclear strike. This “football” is carried by a military aide who accompanies the president at all times up until his term officially ends on January 20th. Traditionally, the aide would hand off the football to another military aide as the next president-elect takes his oath of office.
Trump is currently projected to head to Florida before inauguration day even begins, which means the nuclear football will likely travel with him, presenting some difficulty in transferring that authority smoothly. While that process may have to look a little different this year, there are a multitude of constitutional safeguards put in place to ensure a seamless transition of nuclear control from one president to the next, regardless of the circumstance; which includes the double-impeached president heading to Florida to play some golf.
Stephen Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Bulletin of the Atomic scientists, recently discussed how regardless of where Trump is on inauguration day, the nuclear football will be passed off to Biden and Trump’s reign as president will come to an official close.
“There are at least three to four identical ‘footballs’: one follows the president, one follows the vice president, and one traditionally is set aside for the designated survivor at events like inaugurations and State of the Union addresses.”
“On January 20, the extra footballs will be out of town somewhere with their designees, leaving just Vice President Mike Pence’s briefcase unless the White House Military Office has prepared (or already has on hand) another backup for Biden,” he told the press, adding that the president is required to carry a plastic card on them at all times known as the “biscuit,” which contains codes used to positively identify the president.
“Under the 20th Amendment — and absent any invocation of the 25th Amendment that would make Mike Pence the acting president — Donald Trump is president through 11:59:59 am on January 20. Up to that point in time, he has the sole, legal authority to authorize the use of any or all of the US nuclear arsenal,” Schwartz explained, adding that “if an aide with the football accompanies Trump on Air Force One to Florida, that aide will remove himself or herself from Trump’s presence at noon and return to Washington, DC, with the briefcase.”
After that point Trump will no longer have the authority to launch a nuclear strike and all nuclear codes that he carries will be deactivated permanently. Biden will automatically inherit the power to launch a nuclear strike at that same moment of deactivation; as in that moment his personal codes will be officially activated.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.