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Biden remains "fit for duty," doctor says after annual physical exam

Biden's allies defending his memory
Biden's allies defending his memory after special counsel report 04:43

Washington — President Biden remains "fit for duty" and "fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations," his doctor said Wednesday in a summary of his annual physical.

The president visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday for the exam, amid heightened scrutiny of his health heading into the 2024 presidential campaign.

Mr. Biden is already the oldest president in U.S. history and would be 86 by the end of a second term, should he win one. After his last physical, performed in February 2023, doctors declared Mr. Biden "healthy, vigorous" and "fit" to handle his White House duties.

But voters are approaching this year's election with misgivings about Mr. Biden's age, having scrutinized his gaffes, his coughing, his slow walking and even a tumble off his bicycle.

He was at Walter Reed for about two and a half hours, and the White House released a summary of the physical several hours later. The report closely mirrors the assessment from 2023, with a new diagnosis for sleep apnea. 

"The president feels well and this year's physical identified no new concerns," Kevin O'Connor, physician to the president, said in the memo. "He continues to be fit for duty and fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations."

President Biden walks out of the White House on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, to board Marine One.
President Biden walks out of the White House on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, to board Marine One. Andrew Harnik / AP

O'Connor indicated that the president's occasional reflux symptoms causes symptoms of "having to clear his throat more often" and may contribute to some coughing and sinus congestion, which O'Connor noted is exacerbated soon after meals. Mr. Biden will continue to take Pepcid in the morning and is now taking Nexium in the evening, which O'Connor said had resulted in "significant improvement" in his symptoms.

Mr. Biden's gait "remains stiff but has not worsened since last year," O'Connor said of the president's walking.

Former President Donald Trump, 77, is the favorite to lock up the Republican nomination later this month, which would bring him closer to a November rematch against Mr. Biden. Trump was 70 when he took office in 2017, which made him the oldest American president to be inaugurated, until Mr. Biden broke his record by being inaugurated at 78 in 2021.

A recent special counsel's report investigating Mr. Biden's possession of classified documents repeatedly derided his memory, calling it "hazy," "fuzzy," "faulty," "poor" and having "significant limitations." It also noted that Mr. Biden could not recall defining milestones in his own life such as when his son Beau died or when he served as vice president.

But addressing reporters the evening of the report's release, the president said "my memory is fine" and grew visibly angry as he denied forgetting when his son died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pushed back on calls for Mr. Biden to take a mental fitness or cognitive test, arguing that he "passes a cognitive test every day" through the demands of his job. 

"The president doesn't need a cognitive test — that is not my assessment. That is not my assessment. That is the assessment of the president's doctor. That is also the assessment of the neurologist," she said Wednesday at the daily briefing. "If you look at what a clinical cognitive test is, what it actually does, it is a 15-minute appointment that is administered by someone that most of the time people don't actually know. The president has a team of doctors that is with him 24/7, and he is able to do the work every day that is rigorous — that is more rigorous than it would be for any 15-minute clinical appointment." 

The summary of Wednesday's physical showed that the president continues to be monitored for skin lesions, which he has had removed in the past. The report said his occasional coughing was due to acid reflux, while his stiffened gait was the result of spinal arthritis, a previously broken foot and neuropathy in his feet. The doctor said he gait remained the same as last year.

Mr. Biden had a colonoscopy in 2021, in which a 3 millimeter "benign-appearing polyp" was identified and removed.

In 1988, he had surgery to repair two brain aneurysms, which are weak bulges in arteries, and one of them leaking. Mr. Biden has never had a recurrence, his doctor said, citing a test in 2014 that examined his arteries.

Many Americans, including Democrats, have expressed reservations about Mr. Biden seeking a second term during this fall's election. Only 37% of Democrats say Mr. Biden should pursue reelection, down from 52% before the 2022 midterm elections, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Polls have shown similar reluctance about Trump too, however, and that hasn't stopped either from closing in on their party's nominations.

Mr. Biden won Michigan's Democratic primary handily on Tuesday, but an "uncommitted" campaign organized by activists disillusioned with the president's handling of the war in Gaza far surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Trump won Michigan in 2016. That was a goal set by organizers and it was seen as a potential source of embarrassment for the Biden reelection campaign.

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