Like so many of us, President Joe Biden marked the turn of another year with an annual physical, which for him took place yesterday at Walter Reed Hospital. But his had historical significance. Remember, Biden ran by promising transparency on the health issue, and this was his first physical in office as the oldest first-term president in US history.
Now we have a report on the results – the first extensive update we’ve gotten on his medical health since December 2019. Doctor Kevin O’Connor, who has been working with Biden since he was Vice President, says of his patient, quote, “President Biden remains a healthy, vigorous, 78-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the president.”
Of course, he turned 79 today. The White House and his party probably breathed sighs of relief, because of recent polling, as I’ll get to in a second. In the report, the doctor noted that Biden “has experienced increasing frequency and severity of ‘throat clearing’ and coughing during speaking engagements,” which the doctor says was possibly worsened by a mild hiatal hernia and that the president’s “ambulatory gait is perceptibly stiffer and less fluid than it was a year or so ago.” The doctor attributes in part to arthritis of his spine, and normal wear and tear damage of someone of his age.
The report is a return to the norm of what we used to learn from presidential physicals, before his predecessor. You may remember when then-candidate Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, in December 2015 his campaign released a most unusual doctor’s letter, from a doctor Harold Bornstein, which claimed, “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Years later Bornstein revealed the letter had been dictated by Trump.
We have only recently learned that President Trump’s November 2019 trip to Walter Reed, which at the time spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said was to “begin portions of a routine physical exam.” He was actually getting a colonoscopy.
This only came to light in Grisham’s recent tell-all book, in which she writes that Trump kept the visit private because he did not want then-Vice President Mike Pence to be in power while he was sedated, and, “did not want to be the butt of a joke” on late-night television.
Well, President Biden has been the butt of a late-night television joke about his advancing age. Here’s a sketch from Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, with multiple Bidens at different ages:
Kidding aside, the White House must be hoping the new physical results halt and reverse the trend identified by a New POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, which found a huge leap in concern around the issue of the president’s physical and mental capacities. Only 40 percent of voters surveyed agreed with the statement that Biden “is in good health,” while 50 percent disagreed.
That represents a massive 29-point swing since October 2020, when voters believed Biden was in good health by 53 to 34. Asked if he is mentally fit for the job, 46 percent say yes, 48 percent say no. But again, that’s a big change from last October, when those numbers were 56 and 35.
Perhaps most concerning to the administration – results among independents. We’d expect Trump voters to be inclined to find Biden lacking, and Democrats to support him. But among independents, asked if he’s in good health, 31% say they strongly or somewhat agree and 54% say they somewhat or strongly disagree. That’s a gap of 23 percentage points.
It’s not an outlier: A recent Harvard-Harris poll found 53 percent of all voters doubt Biden’s fitness, and that 58 percent felt he is too old to be president.
To those who find such a discussion to be in poor taste, need I remind you that in October of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, “the dangerous case of Donald Trump” warning that his mental state, “presents a clear and present danger to our nation and individual well-being.”
Throughout his term, there were many discussions in the media about his unfitness for office, as well as countless petitions, including one signed in December 2019 by 350 psychiatrists and other mental-health professionals claiming that his mental health was deteriorating rapidly amid impeachment proceeding.
So, sometimes analysis of a president’s health is warranted.
The headline of a new wall street journal editorial puts the political situation in stark terms: “As Joe Biden turns 79 a panic over Kamala harris … He’s unlikely to run in 2024, and his VP is deeply unpopular.”
What does yesterday’s physical – and the polling mean for Biden’s presidency and chances he’ll run again in 2024? If you remember in his first news conference, Biden confirmed his plans to run for reelection in 2024.
That was a while ago.