Biden gets ‘A’ for brevity; the codes are safe and sound; if only Trump had said the words earlier

By Gary Abernathy

Biden gets an A – mostly for keeping it short

I give Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony an A, which is pretty strong. First, he makes it past F, D and C just for keeping his remarks brief. Whether a sermon in church, a civic lunch or dinner, a professional conference or a political convention, any address longer than 25 minutes – 30 tops – has exceeded my internal clock’s limit. Then, Biden passes the B threshold for not dwelling on the “sins” of Donald Trump or his followers, and sticking to mostly optimistic words and imagery. He’ll never be a great orator, and Chris Wallace’s conclusion on Fox News that it was the greatest inauguration speech he’s ever heard is, well, a little strange. But overall, well done.

What made me a little nauseous was listening to some of the gushy, worshipful bromides coming from anchors and pundits like Wallace, but especially those at Trump-bashing CNN and MSNBC. They behaved like Kim McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” just after she got pinned by Hugo Peabody, still walking around in a gauzy teenage daze. Don’t worry, I only expect the euphoria to last four years, tops.

Later, when new press secretary Jen Psaki held her first briefing and told the assembled reporters that she knew they wouldn’t always agree with what she said, I said aloud, “Oh yes they will.” Let’s see, what’s easier than softball…? Wiffle ball! It will be Wiffle ball for the next four years, Jen, you’ll be fine. 

I joined some of my fellow columnists at the Post to live blog about the event before, during and for a few minutes after Biden’s remarks. You can find a transcript here if you’re interested.

The ‘nuclear football’ ended up in the right place

Some news reports from Wednesday speculated on the whereabouts of the “nuclear football,” the briefcase with the codes to launch nuclear weapons. The “football” is always carried by someone at the president’s side when he’s traveling. Not to worry, they ended up with Biden shortly after he took the oath.

The codes made news a couple of weeks ago when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made sure it leaked that she had asked a military official about the security of the nukes, implying she didn’t trust President Trump not to fire one off in a crazed delirium.

The nuclear codes don’t quite do what a lot of people think. For instance, a president punching in the codes doesn’t automatically launch a nuclear missile, as was explained by an expert on PBS recently: “… what if the president wakes up in the middle of the night, gets angry, gets in a tweet storm, and then tries to launch a nuclear weapon — the system is not designed to respond quickly in that case. He would issue the order, but as he is issuing the order, he would also be alerting the chain of command that he's just come up with this crazy decision. And that chain of command, while not legally required and while not technically required to agree with the president, in practice, the chain of command would have ample opportunity to walk that decision back.”

The National Security Agency changes the codes regularly, as described in this story about a time when President Bill Clinton apparently lost the codes. The codes themselves are actually given to the president on a small credit card-like “biscuit,” they call it. Let’s assume the code doesn’t always require at least one capital letter, one number and one special character, or that the president doesn’t have to email someone for a password reset if he gets locked out after three wrong tries.

If only Trump had said the words earlier

From my Washington Post column posted Wednesday…

Watching former president Donald Trump exit from the White House on Wednesday and step back into private life and whatever drama that holds brought an overwhelming sense of what could have, and should have been…

Trump was, of course, looking back. He again rattled off what are legitimate successes, from his political viewpoint — unshackling free enterprise by rolling back regulations, making the border more secure, not engaging the United States in new wars, renegotiating numerous trade agreements, achieving historic Middle East accords, delivering a coronavirus vaccine in record time — and enjoying cheers and applause one last time as president…

Read the whole column here (subscription might be required).