Biden’s Doctor Says He Is ‘Healthy’ and ‘Vigorous’
WASHINGTON — President Biden is a “healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old,” his doctor said Thursday following a physical exam conducted just weeks before the oldest president in American history is expected to say he is running for a second term.
Kevin C. O’Connor, the president’s longtime physician, said in a letter released by the White House that Mr. Biden’s health has not changed much since his last physical about 15 months ago.
He said Mr. Biden is “fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency, to include those as chief executive, head of state and commander in chief.”
Mr. Biden weighs 178 pounds with a body mass index of 24.1, according to the White House letter. His blood pressure was listed as 128/76 with a pulse of 69. The president had a total cholesterol level of 115, which Dr. O’Connor said was “remarkably low.” His high density lipoprotein level was 46 and his low density lipoprotein level was 58.
In his letter, Dr. O’Connor said the president is 72 inches, or six feet, tall — slightly taller than he was at the end of 2021, when Dr. O’Connor reported that he was 5 feet, 11.65 inches tall. The doctor did not offer any explanation for the increase in stature.
In the letter, Dr. O’Connor said that a “small lesion” on Mr. Biden’s chest had been excised on Thursday and would be sent for a biopsy to determine whether it is cancerous. Several small nonmelanoma skin cancers on Mr. Biden were removed several years ago.
The assessment of Mr. Biden’s health comes as the president’s party grapples with the idea of nominating someone for a second term who, if he wins, will be 86 years old by the time he leaves office.
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Public opinion surveys show that a majority of Democrats would prefer a different standard-bearer to face off against former President Donald J. Trump or another Republican nominee in the 2024 election. In a recent NBC News poll, 28 percent of respondents said Mr. Biden possesses the “necessary mental and physical health to be president.” Fifty-four percent said he does not.
White House aides bristle at the suggestion that Mr. Biden is not up to the job, physically.
“The president always says this, which is, ‘Watch me,’” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Thursday before the memo from the doctor was released to the public. “And if you watch him, you’ll see that he has a grueling schedule, and he keeps up with that.”
Mr. Biden has become noticeably slower in his movements in recent years, walking stiffly as he makes his way to the podium.
Dr. O’Connor said the stiffness is the result of “significant spinal arthritis, mild post-fracture foot arthritis and a mild sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet,” for which the president undergoes physical therapy to regain more flexibility.
The doctor said that new testing performed this year showed that Mr. Biden did not present signs of “any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or ascending lateral sclerosis.”
Dr. O’Connor also said Mr. Biden does not have diabetes, which is the most common cause of the neuropathy in his feet.
Administration officials and others who meet with him privately say he asks pointed, relevant questions and engages in lengthy, sometimes highly detailed, discussions about the policy challenges facing the country.
Reassurances from the president’s doctor and top aides are unlikely to significantly ease concerns among some of his supporters. And Republicans are poised to use the president’s age as a political vulnerability no matter what his doctors say.
This week, Nikki Haley, the Republican former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump, announced a White House run and called for all candidates who are 75 years and older to take a cognitive assessment.
“In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire,” Ms. Haley, who is 51, said. “We’ll have term limits for Congress and mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”
That comment was widely interpreted to be directed at both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, who is also running for a second term and is 76.
There was no indication in Dr. O’Connor’s letter on Thursday that Mr. Biden had undergone any kind of mental capability assessment like the Montreal (MoCA) or other screening tests, which can be done in a few minutes and which are considered sensitive to early changes hinting at dementia.
Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, the director of cognitive neurology at N.Y.U.-Langone Medical Center, said in an interview that all 80-year-olds should have such minimal mental-screening tests as part of a general assessment.
Dr. Wisniewski said the testing should be done not because a physician suspects that something is wrong in a patient, but because the incidence of dementia in 80-year-old patients is sizable, about 30 percent. Performing the test does not imply one has dementia or a problem, he said.
Dr. O’Connor said that a neurologist was among the team of doctors who examined Mr. Biden as part of his physical.
In July of 2020, Mr. Trump claimed that he had taken “and aced” a cognitive test, but provided few details about the exam.
Mr. Biden last received a physical toward the end of 2021, and was given a largely clean bill of health by his doctor.
At the time, Dr. O’Connor said that the president remained “fit for duty” and could fully exercise the duties of the presidency.
On Thursday, he said that not much had changed.
Mr. Biden continues to have nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, for which he receives the drug Eliquis, a blood thinner. He also continues to have gastroesophageal reflux that causes him to have to clear his throat frequently, combined with some seasonal allergies, Dr. O’Connor said.
The president regularly takes a handful of medicines, including the blood thinner, a pill for high cholesterol, over-the-counter allergy medicine and a pill to treat reflux.
Dr. O’Connor said that the most significant health issue that Mr. Biden had faced since his last physical was a previously disclosed bout with Covid last summer.
“Fortunately, having been fully vaccinated and twice boosted at the time of initial infection, the president experienced only mild symptoms, consisting mostly of a deep, loose cough and hoarseness,” Dr. O’Connor wrote.
He added: “The president has not experienced any residual symptoms which may be considered to be ‘long Covid.’”White House officials did not allow reporters to directly question the president’s doctor, but Ms. Jean-Pierre said the multi-page summary handed out after his physical is evidence of the president’s transparency on the issue.