How To Assess Whether A President Can Carry Out His Duties Rachel Martin talks to ex-White House Communications Director Tom Griscom, who recounts how he determined if President Reagan was capable of fulfilling his term after an attempt was made on his life.

How To Assess Whether A President Can Carry Out His Duties

How To Assess Whether A President Can Carry Out His Duties

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Rachel Martin talks to ex-White House Communications Director Tom Griscom, who recounts how he determined if President Reagan was capable of fulfilling his term after an attempt was made on his life.


The anonymous writer of that now infamous New York Times op-ed made a lot of extraordinary claims, including that there were early whispers within the Trump administration Cabinet about invoking the 25th Amendment. That's a way to remove a sitting president from office without impeaching him. The idea has been getting traction at least among some Democrats. Here, Senator Elizabeth Warren.


ELIZABETH WARREN: If senior administration officials think that the president of the United States is not able to do his job, then they should invoke the 25th Amendment.

MARTIN: We have actually been here before. In 1987, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker discharged his staff to evaluate President Ronald Reagan's fitness for office. One of those staffers was Tom Griscom. He joins us now from Chattanooga, Tenn. Mr. Griscom, thanks so much for being here.

TOM GRISCOM: Well, good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Before we get to the circumstances of how you pursued the idea of the 25th Amendment in the Reagan administration, I want to ask you about your take on the New York Times op-ed. You wrote in The Atlantic that you agree with President Trump - that the author of this piece is a, quote, "coward." Why?

GRISCOM: This such a serious issue. It's a constitutional issue. And if you really feel like you're in a situation where a president is not capable of governing, where there's been the kind of conversations alluded to in this op-ed and Cabinet members talking, I think you owe it to the American people. I'm not as concerned about the president, to be honest with you.

But the American people - to say, here's why, here's the conversation, here's what it's all about - and to make that public and to stand up and say it because you go in the White House, you go at the pleasure of the president. You go in with certain things that you agree that you're going to do. And I think that is part of the obligation is let people know why this is being talked about. If it is a serious conversation, let them know your role in the White House.

MARTIN: So you think this person should at least stand up and assign his or her name to this op-ed. I want to ask you about how this went down in the Reagan administration. You were charged with at least asking the questions, with interviewing other staffers about whether or not you thought President Reagan - whether or not they thought President Reagan was fit to serve. How did that transpire?

GRISCOM: Well, the way the issue came up in our transition period, which was in February of 1987, is that Jim Cannon, who worked with me on the transition, raised the question - brought it up. And he had put in a memo-form - it was background on the 25th Amendment and why it ought to be talked about. So we had a conversation with Senator Baker who coming in as chief of staff.

And while we didn't go out and necessarily have a - what is a check the box - you know, was the president able to do this job or not? Senator Baker had seen him when he got offered the position. He felt very comfortable that, yes, the president was more than capable of executing the job. We sat down in the Cabinet room - several of us, several days after we'd had this conversation and came away with the sense that this president - yes, he could execute.

MARTIN: What were the criteria you used to measure his fitness?

GRISCOM: No. 1 - within the transition, there was nobody who was saying to us, we don't think this president's capable. We didn't have Cabinet members coming up, saying, we're worried about this. But when you bring it up, the president is going through probably the worst political issue that he's had during his administration - Iran-Contra. He'd been back in the hospital, had not, you know, been seen publicly for six to eight weeks. So he was coming back.

So there were questions not - I think there was probably as many questions about his physical health that were part of this conversation. And that was the judge. But it's not like that we had, you know, people knocking on the door or sliding a note, you know, off to the side saying, hey, you need to look at this.

MARTIN: Right. So this is a very different circumstance...

GRISCOM: That's right - in making that determination.

MARTIN: ...Than what this anonymous author is alleging. Nevertheless, once it was out there - once people had uttered the words 25th Amendment - how hard is it for the administration to shake that?

GRISCOM: Well, I think you have to spend your time and demonstrate that you are able to adequately and appropriately lead this country. And, I mean, I think it's a little disquieting to watch this, where you have Cabinet members, you have the vice-president saying, it wasn't me. And...

MARTIN: It concerns you that they even feel compelled to say that.

GRISCOM: Yes. I mean, you can imagine people walking - looking at, was it you? Was it me? And I also think it's important to have a sense of, at what level is this person in the White House? I mean, are they really in a role - a senior role, as it was sort of implied - but where do they fit in? Are they in a decision-making role where they are really actively engaged, or is it at some other functional level? That, to me, is also important.

If you make a judgment of why this is being said, what the real import is and the believability - that's the point. It has nothing in my mind to do with the president can execute the job, it's really the believability of the person raising the question.

MARTIN: Tom Griscom - he was communications director for President Ronald Reagan. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

GRISCOM: Thank you, Rachel.

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