Questions about President Biden’s age and mental fitness have continued to surface amid signs he will run for a second term — with some staffers pointing out his verbal stumbles and the noticeable hitch in his step, according to a new report.
While aides say Biden’s energy levels are remarkable for a 79-year-old man, the New York Times reported on Sunday, they still worry that he’ll “trip on a wire” because of the way he shuffles as he walks, and fear he won’t make it to the end of his remarks without a gaffe.
The report said Biden — the oldest to serve as commander in chief — is “testing the boundaries of age and the presidency.”
The president is already a year older than Ronald Reagan was at the end of his second administration. He would be 86 at the conclusion of his second term if he wins re-election.
“I do feel it’s inappropriate to seek that office after you’re 80 or in your 80s,” said David Gergen, a presidential adviser dating back to the Nixon era. “I have just turned 80 and I have found over the last two or three years I think it would have been unwise for me to try to run any organization. You’re not quite as sharp as you once were.”
The president has said questions about his mental and physical fitness for office are fair game, but some wonder if he can keep up the demanding pace for another six years, even just pointing out that he looks older than when he entered the White House in 2021.
While Biden’s age is a sensitive topic in the White House, current and former senior officials and advisers described him as intellectually engaged, grilling staffers at meetings, questioning them on specific points in memos and rewriting speeches up until moments before he delivers them.
Some experts see Biden, who routinely bikes — despite taking a spill while on a ride last month — and exercises five days a week, as being unusually fit for his age.
“Right now, there’s no evidence that the age of Biden should matter one ounce,” S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago who studied the candidates’ ages in 2020, told the Times. “If people don’t like his policies, they don’t like what he says, that’s fine, they can vote for someone else. But it’s got nothing to do with how old he is.”
But that may not be the case when Biden hits 86.
“That’s the right question to be asking,” Olshansky said. “You can’t sugarcoat aging. Things go wrong as we get older and the risks rise the older we get.”
White House aides say they don’t carve out accommodations for Biden, but privately, they try to protect his weekends away in Delaware, the Times reported.
Biden leaves Tuesday for a four-day trip to the Middle East, which was originally scheduled immediately after he traveled last month to the NATO and the G7 summits. The trip was split up over fears it could unnecessarily tax the president, the report said.
Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the president’s physician, declared Biden “fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency” after a checkup last fall.
O’Connor indicated that the president still has a cough caused by gastroesophageal reflux and a stiffer gait when he walks because of his age.
But the Times report noted that in public, Biden sometimes loses his train of thought or struggles to recall a name.
He’s referred to Vice President Kamala Harris as “President Harris” several times and still stumbles over his words, despite overcoming a stutter from childhood.
A group of Republican lawmakers this winter called on Biden to take a cognitive test in a letter that cited several examples of what they termed “mental decline” and polls that show Americans were questioning his mental fitness.
The GOP legislators insisted their request wasn’t partisan and pointed out that former President Donald Trump also submitted to one.
Aides said Biden usually works a five or five-and-a-half-day week, but can be called at any hour, according to the Times.
His evening hours, however, are limited and he has given less than half as many news conferences or interviews as some of his predecessors.
Biden has given 38 interviews, compared to 116 for Trump, 198 for Barack Obama, 71 for George W. Bush and 75 for Bill Clinton, the Times said.
But Biden has taken questions more often after a speech or other event — 290 times, compared to Trump’s 213 and Obama’s 64.
The White House insisted that Biden is available 24/7.
“President Biden works every day and because chief executives can perform their duties from anywhere in the world, it has long been common for them to spend weekends away from the White House,” Andrew Bates, a deputy press secretary, told the newspaper after the article was published online.