Speed Reads

inauguration day

Donald Trump is about to get the nuclear launch codes. Here's what that means.

Friday will be a day full of monumental rites of passage: The president's swearing-in ceremony, the parade, the inaugural luncheon, the balls. But one tradition looms large, especially for critics concerned about President-elect Donald Trump's restraint: The briefing where the new president learns how to quickly launch a nuclear attack.

"The briefer is very, very military. It's a military briefing," George W. Bush's former chief of staff Andy Card told Politico. "It's not a briefing of the conscience. It's by-the-book, it's rote … It's kind of like how to use your remote control for the TV."

Trump's access to the nuclear arsenal and his ability to quickly attack another nation using a nuclear bomb without having to go through Congress, his Cabinet, or, theoretically, anyone else, has been a subject of aggressive criticism from his detractors. In October, 10 former nuclear launch officers said in a letter that the pressures of possessing the nuclear launch codes are "staggering and require enormous composure, judgment, restraint, and diplomatic skill" and that "Donald Trump does not have these leadership qualities. On the contrary, he has shown himself time and again to be easily baited and quick to lash out, dismissive of expert consultation and ill-informed of even basic military and international affairs — including, most especially, nuclear weapons."

There is some comfort for critics, at least. In the past, aides have noted a visible difference when the president has emerged from his nuclear briefing. George H.W. Bush reportedly "slipped out of Blair House and into the street with tears reddening the rims of his eyes."

Officials in both the government and the Trump campaign would not confirm to Politico where or when Trump will get the codes, which will be carried by a military aide in a briefcase near the president from the moment he is inaugurated. If history is any indication, Trump will likely be pulled aside shortly after taking his oath.