The president of the United States has COVID. After months of refusing to wear a mask, socially distance, or take other basic preventative measures recommended by the U.S. government that he leads — and mocking those who do — President Donald Trump has contracted the coronavirus. He joins the 7,160,476 others known to have had the disease in the United States, where at least 205,666 people have died of its complications, according to the World Health Organization.
Trump tweeted it at 12:45 a.m. ET. It all started when Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs broke the news around 8:30 p.m. that Trump aide Hope Hicks had tested positive. In the next hour, Trump called into Sean Hannity’s Fox show, where amid his usual false claims of election ballot fraud, he eventually was asked about Hicks. He revealed that he and First Lady Melania Trump were waiting for their own results, setting off a firestorm of speculation. After midnight, Trump tweeted his post-midnight news; the White House released a doctor’s letter confirming it. As has been reported, that means White House officials knew a key presidential aide had the virus and told nobody outside the inner circle. (Hicks, exhibiting symptoms, flew back from Trump’s Wednesday rally in Minnesota on Air Force One, but “in quarantine,” Jacobs reported.)
Commander in chief in quarantine. Even before his positive test, doctors were saying that Trump and everyone in contact with Hicks would need to quarantine for 14 days. Trump says he and Mrs. Trump will do that, at the White House. If he does, that means no travel, no campaigning, no rallies, no press conferences, and no golfing fundraisers like the one he flew to in New Jersey on Thursday after learning that Hicks had tested positive.
Trump is experiencing mild symptoms, may address the nation Friday, reports MSNBC. The president’s age (74), obesity (body-mass index of 30.4, per AP), and gender (male) make him more likely than average to have a severe case. Bloomberg: “People between ages 65 and 74 are five times more likely to be hospitalized and 90 times more likely to die than those 18 to 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men have accounted for 54% of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.”
DOD spox: "There’s been no change to DoD alert levels. The US military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a Friday morning statement.
But: If the president becomes incapacitated, power transfers to someone else. (Remember Al Haig?) Early Friday, the White House said Vice President Mike Pence and his wife had tested negative, which should put to bed the hopes of those Democrats howling that third-in-line House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may actually be given the reins. If Trump ends up in the ICU, as UK’s Boris Johnson did, then Pence could become acting president.
“Our adversaries are watching, and if they sense that we are unprepared, off balance, or somehow unable to respond, they could engage in a very provocative military act — then we could be off to the races in a very significant national security crisis,” said Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at CIA and the Pentagon, said Trump can continue uninterrupted from isolation, on NBC’s Today show.
“I think what you’ll see the president do or the vice president do today or in the coming day is reach out to world leaders, allies, not only to assure allies but to send a message to adversaries, ‘Listen, I’m still the commander in chief, I’m still in charge, the government is still functioning,’ just to make sure nobody causes any mischief. You’ll likely see that very, very soon.” says NPR’s Tom Bowman, here.
“A shudder around the world” in reaction to Trump’s diagnosis. NYT wrote overnight that “the news of an American president contracting a potentially lethal virus carried global repercussions beyond that of any other world leader. Financial markets fell in Asia and looked set to open lower in Europe and the United States.” (Every index was down mid-morning on Friday.)
What about Biden and everyone at the debate? Fox’s Mike Wallace sat just offstage taking the brunt (and airborne particulates) from Trump’s 90 minutes of mask-less shouting, on Tuesday. Many reporters chronicled that everyone on Biden’s side of the bridal hall kept their masks on. On Trump’s side, they all refused Cleveland Clinic instructions to wear masks, even when they were offered masks by hand — except for Melania, who kept hers on until she stepped on stage for the post-debate photo op. No word from Team Biden on testing or whether there will be any future debates.
Biden’s response: Almost exactly when reports of Hicks’ diagnosis broke on Thursday night, Biden said in a tweet: “Donald Trump will do everything he can to distract from..his failed COVID-19 response...We can’t let him.” Yeah, so much for that worry. Friday morning, in his next tweet, Biden writes: “Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
FLOTUS, SCOTUS, and the rest? Keeping with the White House’s practice of maskless public imaging and crowded meetings, Melania Trump posted a proud picture of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and her children at the Oval Office, last week. Many are posting pictures of Barrett posing with several members of Congress she is meeting for her confirmation process. Barrett has tested negative, MSNBC is reporting Friday morning. The First Lady, in her own late-night tweet, said, “Please be sure you are staying safe & we will all get through this together.” That tweet sits below her pinned tweet from April 28, a public service announcement in which she tells Americans to wear masks.
JCS members were at White House on Sunday. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, Air Force Chief of Staff Charles "CQ" Brown, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville attended a Gold Star family event at the White House on Sunday. All three have since tested negative, Military.com reported.
Just in: Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel has tested positive. She was with Trump last Friday, before Barrett visited Trump. “She has mild symptoms. She was last with POTUS last Friday and has been in Michigan since then,” NYT’s Maggie Haberman reports.
What happens if the president dies? Just in case, here’s a guide to the 25th amendment.
No, warplanes were not scrambled. A bit of conspiracy-mongering popped up overnight when someone in Hawaii tweeted that two nuclear war-related planes were in the air before Trump revealed his positive diagnosis. The tweet set off headlines from the UK to Australia that the E-6 TACAMO aircraft had been launched as a deliberate calming measure ahead of the announcement.
That’s bogus. “With regard to reports about E-6B aircraft on alert status, US STRATCOM has confirmed these E-6B aircraft were part of pre-planned missions. Any timing to the president’s announcement was purely coincidental,” DOD's Hoffman said in his statement.
COVID patients spiking at VA hospitals: “Active cases among patients at 3331 last night, up 22% over the last two weeks,” says Military Times’ Leo Shane. There have been 3,459 deaths since mid-March, “about 520 of those were in Sept.” Total VA cases so far: 61,683.
From Defense One
Boots on The Moon Are Going to Have to Wait, Space Force General Says // Marcus Weisgerber: NASA’s astronaut program is the quickest way to space for military personnel.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Pentagon official blames contract for KC-46 tanker woes, Army connects THAAD to Patriot, Switzerland OKs fighter jet competition, and more
Why Trump’s Retreat from US Allies Could Have Nuclear Consequences // Eric Brewer: For decades, America gave allies and partners good reason to shelve their nuclear-weapons efforts.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Kevin Baron with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
No boots on the moon, actually…for decades. “Just days after a U.S. Space Force general said members of the military’s newest branch would one day deploy into orbit, another top general said those days are still far, far away.” In an exclusive interview with Defense One, U.S. Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson said, “We’re not talking five or 10 years...We’re talking decades from now, almost certainly.” See that clip and more, here.
New space acquisitions command coming next year. “We anticipate standing that up in 2021, probably sooner rather than later. We’re working on those final details,” said U.S. Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson, which caught the ear of C4ISRNet, here.
Space supply chain has “dried up.” Thompson confirmed what we’ve already reported, saying, “I’m very concerned about especially those small innovative companies.” He added: “A year ago today, we were potentially on the cusp of an explosion in terms of what I’ll call opportunities presented by the creativity and the energy and the ingenuity in the commercial space market.” But now, he said, “I’m not sure yet if we figured out a way to ensure part of that will survive. If we do, it will serve us greatly. If not it may take us years to recover.” Breaking Defense with more on the exchange, here.
Watch the complete interview here. (It’s free; you just have to sign in.)
Trump vs. the Navy SEALs? Several military news outlets reported earlier this week that the elite force said it was going to update its legendary “ethos” to be gender-neutral. That set off right-wing social media into outrage against political correctness. Trump, of course, caught wind and before the COVID news broke tweeted, “I will be overturning this ridiculous order immediately!” and retweeting an anonymous account called the Columbia Bugle that recently called the left “demonic.”
But SEALs wanted to do this. Per Task & Purpose: "The previous versions of the SEAL Ethos and SWCC Creed were written prior to the law allowing women to serve as operators in Naval Special Warfare," said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Stroup, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command. "Updates were overdue," Stroup added, noting that the changes were "favorably endorsed" by each of the unit's major commanders and command master chiefs.
50 Republicans for Trump. Several days after 489 retired flag officers and former senior natsec officials signed a letter endorsing Biden, the president tweeted out his own list of 50 national security veterans endorsing his reelection. Some notables: Ed Meese, the notorious former attorney general from the 1980s; KT McFarland, former deputy national security advisor; former Navy secretary Gordon England; far-right former congressmen, like Randy Forbes, Jim Talent, and Bob Barr; and several names not really known as natsec leaders, like Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor. The list is more notable for the Republican national security leaders who are not it, names like: Bush, Baker, Cheney, Rice, etc.
Japan’s new PM won’t attend the annual South Korea and China trilateral, unless ROK reverses a ruling seizing a Japanese company’s assets over wartime labor — World War II wartime, that is. “Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have sunk to historic lows since South Korea's top court in October 2018 ordered Nippon Steel to compensate four plaintiffs for forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.” More, here.
How involved is Turkey in the Caucasus fighting? “Turkey supplies weapons and training to Azerbaijan, and there are signs that it is actively engaged in the fighting, which Ankara has denied,” writes NYT’s Carlotta Gall, from Ankara. “If Turkish involvement is confirmed, even in a supporting role, it would be just one of several fronts where Mr. Erdogan has deployed troops, ships and aircraft with increasing readiness this year.”
EU sanctions Belarus, finally. It took eight hours of talks to settle an unrelated impasse between Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, but it’s finally done, as Defense One had reported was coming, a few weeks ago. “The delay in punishing Belarus for its crackdown after flawed elections on Aug. 9 had been a huge embarrassment for the bloc.” More from NYT, here.