Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it has been America’s security policy to avoid having the president and vice president travel together. It was therefore unusual that the president and vice president flew together on Air Force One to Atlanta last week.
The fact that the two of them traveled together raises questions about Biden’s future as president.
Even before 9/11, presidents and vice presidents avoided traveling together. Going back to the Kennedy presidency, in the infamous trip to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson flew to Texas on Air Force Two, while President John F. Kennedy and his team traveled on Air Force One. (After the assassination, Johnson returned to Washington on Air Force One and, in fact, was sworn in while onboard.)
On 9/11, both the president and vice president were moved to separate locations while New York and Washington were under attack. This wasn’t just an instinctive move by the U.S. Secret Service.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 67, which set up a Continuity of [Government] Operations Plan (COOP) in case of emergency.
Not only the president and vice president, but a raft of senior officials were under COOP tasked to go to special secret locations if COOP was activated. There they would continue to operate the government and control U.S. strategic military forces, including nuclear missiles.
AlertOn March 17, the D.C. Police issued an alert that a “person of concern” was on the loose in Washington. The next day, on March 18, that person was arrested by the Secret Service. He was allegedly stalking the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue, where he was apprehended.
By the morning of March 19, no one knew for sure if others may have been looking to carry out an attack on the president or vice president. Yet, Air Force One departed Joint Base Andrews, just outside of Washington, for Atlanta with both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on board.
It’s highly unlikely, even with the changes, that the Secret Service would have wanted the president and vice president traveling together, especially under heightened alert conditions when security is all-important.
Shielding the PresidentGiven the White House’s intention to shield the president from talking to the press or interacting with the public, Harris no doubt went with him to Atlanta to protect the president and keep him away from making mistakes or blunders in responding to questions.
This fits in quite well with the fact that Biden has held no press conferences and is kept very isolated and controlled by the White House staff of overseers. Even more worrying has been Biden’s uncalled for and risky conversations with foreign leaders—most dangerous of all are the alleged accusations Biden leveled at Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusations that, in Biden’s better days, he would have avoided.
His similar attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Sultan also plunged the Gulf area into great danger and led to increasing Houthi attacks on the Kingdom. It appears the president has a poor grip on the reality of his office.
Two very serious questions arise: the first is, how long can the White House staff, the vice president, and others (including First Lady Jill Biden) protect Biden? The second question is, can the public be assured that Biden is capable of exercising presidential responsibilities including that most critical task of acting as commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces?
25th AmendmentThe 25th Amendment to the Constitution deals with presidential disability. It says that the president should inform Congress he can’t carry out his responsibilities, in which case the vice president becomes the acting president. Alternatively, the vice president and the principal Cabinet officers can inform Congress if the president is unable to carry out his duties.
Presidents have been very reluctant to invoke the 25th Amendment. In 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was shot and taken to G.W. Hospital in Washington for emergency surgery, Vice President George H.W. Bush was on an airplane heading back to the Capitol.
Reagan could have invoked the 25th Amendment (he was conscious enough to crack jokes to the surgeon that he hoped his surgeon was a Republican), but didn’t. By the time Bush’s plane landed, Reagan was out of surgery and was starting to recover.
There has never been a case in which the provisions of Article 4 of the 25th Amendment empowering the vice president and Cabinet officers to intervene were invoked.
An additional element is mental health, which isn’t directly addressed by the 25th Amendment. If a president suffered from mental illness, would his supporters invoke Article 4 or would they try to cover up the problem? Equally important is mental decline, not mental illness. Dementia falls into that category.
The 25th Amendment doesn’t directly address mental decline or speak about two well-known maladies: dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Presidential health checkups don’t take into account mental health issues, or mental decline, although with aging presidents, such assessments might make sense.
Other countries have had similar problems. The most famous case is that of King George III, king of Great Britain and Ireland. He suffered from recurrent mental problems caused possibly by bipolar disorder or porphyria, a type of blood disorder.