- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is now getting three presidential briefings a week, moving him that much closer to realizing the literal meaning of a “daily briefing.”
Trump transition team communications director Sean Spicer told ABC News that this is the first week that Trump is receiving three president’s daily briefs, or PDBs. Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, incoming national security advisor, and Trump’s Vice President-elect Mike Pence are receiving briefings every day. Trump previously told Fox News, “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be eight years – but eight years. I don’t need that.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has said that Trump does indeed need that. Speaking to The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, Obama said, “It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible.”
The tradition of briefing incoming nominees and presidents began in 1952, when outgoing president Harry Truman decided that the next president should not be as ill-prepared as he was when Franklin D. Roosevelt died, suddenly elevating him to the top job. However, the president’s daily briefs — though they were not called such at the time — began in the 1960s during then-president John F. Kennedy’s administration. The Central Intelligence Agency wanted a way by which Kennedy could get the information of the day in an orderly fashion, and so fashioned him a small booklet that he could keep in his pocket and check throughout the day. The name “president’s daily brief” came during the days of Lyndon B. Johnson.
And, counter to Trump’s claim, PDBs do not contain the same thing every day. For example, on August 6, 2001, then-president Bush received one warning him, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” President Johnson was briefed in the days leading up to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and when China first detonated an atomic bomb in 1964. They inform the president of the history that is being made, for good and ill, around the world as it is happening — giving the commander in chief a chance to stay abreast, or even ahead, of events.
Some presidents prefer to receive the brief in person; some, like Barack Obama, prefer the original written method. But all presidents’ president’s daily briefs are closely guarded while they’re in office.
Given that Pence is receiving them five times a week, it seems that Trump’s vice-president-to-be is indeed poised to play an outsized role in the administration, and especially regarding foreign policy, as was floated when Ohio Gov. John Kasich was in the running for vice president.
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