In Washington President Biden will likely be more rested than he would have been had he adhered to the original plan when he departs Tuesday night for a four-day swing through the Middle East.
Before it became apparent to Mr. Biden’s team that such prolonged travel might be unnecessarily taxing for a 79-year-old president, or “crazy,” as one official put it, the trip was originally planned to be tacked onto another trip last month to Europe, making for a strenuous 10-day overseas trek.
A few weeks later, aides explained that they had to reschedule the extra stops as a separate trip for political and diplomatic reasons. But in practice, it can be difficult to manage the schedule of the oldest president in American history. Furthermore, Mr. Biden’s age has become a more unsettling topic for him, his team, and his party as he continues to insist he intends to run for a second term.
Mr. Biden is already more than a year older than Ronald Reagan was at the end of his two terms just a year and a half into his first term. By pushing the limits of age and presidential eligibility if he runs again in 2024, Mr. Biden would be asking the public to choose a president who would be 86 at the end of his term. Many Americans believe Mr. Biden is too old, according to polls, and some Democratic strategists do not believe he should run for office again.
It comes as no surprise that the West Wing feels strongly about it. More than a dozen current and former senior officials and advisers who participated in interviews, some approved by the White House and some not, all agreed that Mr. Biden maintained his intellectual rigor by asking insightful questions during meetings, grilling aides on points of contention, calling them late at night, spotting the weak point on Page 14 of a memo, and revising speeches like his remarks on abortion on Friday up until the very last minute.
However, they conceded that Mr. Biden looks older now than he did a few years ago. This is a political weakness that can’t be fixed by standard White House tactics like staff changes or new communications strategies. While still impressive for a man of his age, his energy level has decreased, and some assistants keep a close eye on him. His walking is often shuffling, and his caregivers are concerned he’ll trip over a wire. They wait in anticipation to see if he avoids a slip-up because he frequently makes mistakes when speaking in front of large crowds.
Even though White House representatives claim they don’t make any special arrangements like Reagan’s team did, they secretly work to keep Mr. Biden’s weekends in Delaware as private as possible. He works five or five and a half days per week on average, but he may be called at any time, day or night, if necessary. He avoids the public during the night and has participated in less press conferences and interviews than his recent predecessors.
White House officials lamented that Mr. Biden’s bicycle accident last month was one of the week’s top stories, despite the fact that the president exercises five mornings a week, frequently with a personal trainer, and that many men his age no longer ride bicycles.
Even as he assures Americans that he is in good shape, Mr. Biden has stated that it is reasonable to question his fitness. The question of whether that will continue for another six years, however, even concerns some admirers.
The Biden Administration
Here is where President Biden stands in light of the impending midterm elections.
David Gergen, a key advisor to four presidents, said: “I do feel it’s inappropriate to seek that office after you’re 80 or in your 80s.” “I just turned 80, and I’ve discovered over the last two or three years that I shouldn’t have attempted to lead any organization. You’re not quite as intelligent as you used to be.
Of course, everyone ages differently, and some experts classify Mr. Biden as one of the “super-agers” who continue to be unusually fit as they get older.
There is currently no proof that Joe Biden’s age should matter in the slightest, according to S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity expert at the University of Illinois Chicago who looked at the candidates’ ages in 2020. “It’s okay if people disagree with his policies or what he says; they can choose another candidate to represent them in office. However, his age has nothing to do with it.
However, Professor Olshansky said it was reasonable to question whether that would still be the case at 86. He replied, “That’s the right question to be asking. “Aging cannot be sugarcoated. As we get older, things go wrong and the risks increase.
The notion that Mr. Biden was anything other than a seven-day commander in chief was rejected by the White House. Andrew Bates, a deputy press secretary, said after this article appeared online: “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.”
According to the president’s medical report from November, his atrial fibrillation was stable and asymptomatic. According to the report, Mr. Biden’s “ambulatory gait is perceptibly stiffer and less fluid than it was a year or so ago,” and his coughing and clearing of the throat are symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux that “certainly seem to be more frequent and more pronounced.”
However, in general, the president was described as “a healthy, vigorous 78-year-old male who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency” by his doctor, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor.
However, Mr. Biden’s reputation has suffered due to concerns about his fitness. In a June poll conducted by Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies and the Harris Poll, 64% of voters, including 60% of those 65 and older, thought he was demonstrating that he was too old to be president.
The public appearances of Mr. Biden have heightened this impression. He occasionally gives flat, lifeless speeches. He occasionally appears momentarily confused, loses his train of thought, or has trouble recalling names. He has referred to Kamala Harris, the vice president, as “President Harris” on numerous occasions. Mr. Biden stumbles over words like “kleptocracy,” despite having overcome a childhood stutter. He has referred to Ukrainians as Iranians and called Virginia’s Democratic Senator Mark Warner “John” several times, confusing him with the late Republican senator of the same name from Virginia.
Such incidents are gleefully highlighted by Republicans and conservative media, who post viral videos that occasionally exaggerate or distort the truth to make Mr. Biden appear even worse. However, the White House has been forced to retract some of his impromptu remarks, including when he threatened a military response if China attacked Taiwan or said that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “cannot remain in power.”
Even as a young man, Mr. Biden was infamous for making mistakes, and his aides cite his long meetings with the families of victims of mass shootings or his work on the rope line during a trip to Cleveland this past week as examples of his endurance.
Senior advisor Mike Donilon, who started working for Mr. Biden about 40 years ago, claimed he did not notice any change. When the staff is exhausted from long trips, he will want to spend four hours planning how to launch domestic policy when all the younger staff wants to do is sleep, the man claimed.
Presidents have previously dealt with the issue of age, not just Mr. Biden. Under President Donald J. Trump, who is four years younger, the subject was brought up frequently. Critics concluded that Mr. Trump was declining as a result of his declining vocabulary, tendency to meander, occasionally incoherent remarks, light office schedule, and difficulties processing information.
Reagan was the oldest president up until this point. When his reelection in 1984 was briefly in jeopardy due to a poor debate performance, he bounced back in the following debate by joking that he would not take advantage of “my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
According to the biographer Lou Cannon, “Reagan understood this issue, both intuitively and he had thought it through.” And he said to me, “If I act old, age will be a problem, but if I don’t, age won’t be a problem.”
By Reagan’s last years in office, a new group of aides secretly examined whether he might need to be removed from office due to a disability under the 25th Amendment, but ultimately came to the conclusion that he was still fit. (He was identified as having Alzheimer’s five years after leaving the White House.)
His schedule was still restricted by aides, who were closely watched by Nancy Reagan, the first lady. One of those assistants, Tom Griscom, recalled, “To not overschedule, was one of the first lessons we had.” Additionally, they shouldn’t send too many briefing papers at night. After a few weeks, “a message came back down from Mrs. Reagan asking us not to send so much up in the evening because he would read it all,” he recalled, adding that he would stay up late reading the correspondence.
According to Mr. Biden’s advisors, he pushes against such management and makes his own decisions. According to Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the deputy chief of staff who is in charge of managing his calendar, “He’s driving additions to his schedule all the time, whether it’s new CEO calls or late-night meetings with members.”
However, assistants are wary of exposing him to the coronavirus. Aides are tested once a week, and on the day of the test, they wear colored wristbands; if they intend to attend a meeting with the president on a different day, they must test that morning as well, and they must also wear N95 masks.
The White House appears equally committed to protecting Mr. Biden from spontaneous interactions with the media. According to Martha Joynt Kumar, a longtime expert on presidential media strategy, he has only held 16 news conferences since taking office, which is less than half as many as Mr. Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush had by this point and less than a third as many as Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
Like Mr. Trump (116), Mr. Obama (198), the younger Mr. Bush (71), Mr. Clinton (75), and the older Mr. Bush, Mr. Biden has only given 38 interviews (86). Mr. Biden has been more approachable, taking a few informal questions after speeches or other events, something he has done 290 times compared to Mr. Trump’s 213 and Mr. Obama’s 64.
Foreign leaders followed his lead while guarding him like a renowned elderly relative during his trip to Europe last month. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gently steered Vice President Biden toward the photographers during a photo opportunity. A reporter twice shouted a query about exporting grain from Ukraine just before a meeting. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, intervened when Mr. Biden was unable to hear the question. Mr. Johnson said, “We’re working on it.
Mr. Biden occasionally had a busy schedule. He met with a number of heads of state on the day he flew to Madrid for the NATO summit, and his visit was capped off by a dinner hosted by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain. On another day, however, he chose to forego joining other leaders for an evening event, and his final public engagement was scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
However, his aides claimed that he was preoccupied and worked late every night while he was away, just as they anticipate he will do this coming week when he travels once more to Israel and Saudi Arabia.