What We’ve Learned From Presidential Physicals of Biden, Trump and Obama

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Mr. Biden has said he intends to run for a second term, but his age has become an uncomfortable issue for him and his party. It also has left him vulnerable to attacks by Republicans.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Nikki Haley, who announced her presidential bid on Tuesday, called for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old,” a threshold that would include both Mr. Biden and Donald J. Trump. And in her rebuttal against Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address last week, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas called Mr. Biden “unfit.”

Mr. Biden has dismissed those concerns, telling voters simply: “Watch me.”

Although the tradition of publicizing the results of the president’s physical dates back to Mr. Nixon, the expectations about how much information to release have varied.

“Even though there are norms in place, each White House can do it differently,” Mr. Dallek said. “But of course you cannot divorce the politics from the physicals.”

Mr. Dallek said Mr. Biden’s level of transparency was “pretty consistent” with that of President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama, who both provided information on height, weight and cholesterol. Mr. Bush’s doctor said his patient smoked the occasional cigar, while Mr. Obama’s physician went as far as saying the president took Nexium for “occasional acid reflux symptoms,” as well as daily vitamin D tablets.

In 2018, the Trump administration sent Dr. Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician, to declare to reporters that Mr. Trump enjoyed “excellent health” without initially releasing any basic information, such as weight, blood pressure or cholesterol levels. A memorandum on his health released in 2019 did not detail the physical examinations that Mr. Trump underwent, or their results, as the White House physician did for Mr. Obama.

Some presidential candidates have gone to great lengths to answer questions about their age or health. In 2008, after Senator John McCain secured the Republican presidential nomination, his doctors invited about 20 reporters to a room in Arizona to examine Mr. McCain’s medical records.

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