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What Trump's Positive Coronavirus Test Result Means For National Security


President Trump's tweet came in the middle of the night. He and the first lady had tested positive for coronavirus. The White House doctor says Trump will be conducting business from inside the White House as he recovers. The president, of course, is the commander in chief of our nation's armed forces. So what could this development mean for the military? We've NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman with us this morning. Hi, Tom.


GREENE: So what is the messaging, at least at this point, from the Pentagon or from the White House about how the military is being run while the president has to, you know, stay inside the White House?

BOWMAN: Well, we've heard nothing from the Pentagon at this point or the White House about the continuation of, you know, the military. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is traveling overseas. I reached out to his spokesman; no word from him yet. But it's important to note, David, that the president is still carrying out his duties as commander in chief. There's been no transfer of power to the vice president under the 25th Amendment. Now, of course, the president has tested positive, but apparently at this point does not have really any symptoms. That could change, of course, in the coming days if he develops more serious symptoms. Of course, the doctors are watching this. Now, millions of people have tested positive. I'm one of them. A couple of weeks ago, I tested positive. My only symptom was a bad cough. I isolated for two weeks. Now I am symptom free. But, of course, the president is a high-risk category. He's in his 70s. He's overweight. So, obviously, doctors will monitor his health in the coming weeks. And if he developed more serious symptoms, you could possibly see the vice president, Vice President Pence, take over the duties for him under the 25th Amendment.

GREENE: Well, Tom, I'm glad you're doing better.

BOWMAN: Yeah, me, too.

GREENE: I - you know, from our colleague Tamara Keith at the White House, I mean, it sounds like they are thinking about possible contingency plans, that the vice president could be available to step in if needed. But at this point, the president, who, as you said, you know, is not symptomatic as far as we know, wants to stay engaged. I mean, how does the military follow something like this when it comes to possible changes in the chain of command?

BOWMAN: Well, what you would see possibly is the vice president chair any Cabinet meetings, for example, or have the defense secretary come to the White House for meetings over the next couple of weeks. And, of course, the president could simply call the Pentagon leaders himself, either Defense Secretary Esper or General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He's quarantined but, again, still carrying out his duties as president. Clearly, the White House is still working through what all this means in the coming weeks and how the government will function. But at this point, again, he is still in charge. The president's still in charge and commander in chief.

GREENE: Even if it's business as usual at a place like the Pentagon, I mean, is there any sort of, like, heightened alert or heightened awareness or anything you have to sort of think about when, you know, when a president, you know, potentially falls ill?

BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely. I think what you'll see the president or the vice president do today or in the coming days is reach out to world leaders, allies, not only to assure allies but to send a message to adversaries - listen, I'm still in charge, I'm still the commander in chief, the government is still functioning - just to make sure nobody causes any mischief. You will likely see that very, very soon.

GREENE: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.