The early-morning presidential wake-up

THE EARLY-MORNING PRESIDENTIAL WAKE-UP…. About a year ago at this time, one of the major political debates was over the “3 a.m.” call a president might receive, letting him or her know of some kind of pressing crisis.

As the discussion unfolded, we learned from a series of White House aides from a variety of administrations that the early-morning presidential wake-ups are quite rare, and calling on a president to make a snap judgment in the middle of the night is practically unheard of among modern presidents.

The more common situation was one in which a White House aide lets the president know about a development of significance. With that in mind, President Obama really was woken up Saturday night/Sunday morning to learn about the North Korean launch. ABC News’ Jake Tapper reported yesterday:

President Obama first heard about North Korea’s missile launch from press secretary Robert Gibbs, who woke up his boss to give him the news — the first time in Mr. Obama’s young presidency that such a thing has happened.

It turns out there wasn’t a “3 am phone call” as was discussed during the campaign — Gibbs knocked on the door of President Obama’s suite at the Prague Hilton, soon after 4:30 a.m. local time, almost immediately after the North Korean missile launch had been confirmed.

I can appreciate the idea of keeping the president informed of pressing international developments, but I tend to think Michael Crowley has it right: they probably should have just let Obama sleep.

It’s a small thing but did Robert Gibbs really need to wake Obama at 4:30 am with news of the North Korean missile launch? We knew the launch was coming and Obama had no imminent decision to make. Waking the president to tell him things so he can return to a troubled sleep that leaves him less sharp the next morning strikes me as a PR-oriented tradition we can do without.

And “a PR-oriented tradition” is what this seems to be. The Washington Post reported a year ago that former White House advisers said these middle-of-the-night wake-ups “were largely aimed at keeping the president informed of critical developments, particularly ones that might cause embarrassment if the public learned that a commander in chief had slept through the episode undisturbed.”

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