Joe Biden, at 80 the oldest man ever to be US president, spent the morning Thursday completing an annual medical checkup that political allies hope will give him the all clear to run for a second term in 2024.
Biden left the White House by helicopter for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a complex in the Washington suburbs that has a special facility for treatment of presidents.
He has not declared a reelection bid but is widely expected to do so soon, with the campaign starting to heat up. On the Republican side, so far the frontrunner is former president Donald Trump, whom Biden beat in the tumultuous 2020 election.
Results from the medical checkup — some portions of which were done in an earlier session last year — are expected Thursday.
“Later today, the White House will publicly release a written summary of the president’s physical,” a spokesman said.
After Biden’s last checkup in November 2021, presidential physician Kevin O’Connor issued a memorandum declaring Biden “healthy, vigorous,” and fit to do his job, although prone to increased coughing and growing stiffness while walking.
Both those issues are noticeable daily during Biden’s public interactions, but the octogenarian leader has otherwise managed to maintain a full schedule in the grueling job, overseeing mass Covid vaccinations, the Western response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, and so far steering the US economy clear of recession.
While routine, Thursday’s physical is being closely watched, with Democratic leaders insisting they will stand behind Biden if he runs again, but polls showing little enthusiasm from their voters.
Nikki Haley, a 51-year-old Republican who has just entered the 2024 race, called Wednesday for mental fitness tests for any elected official over 75. That would also apply to Trump, 76, under whom she served as UN ambassador.
Biden would face no Democratic challengers if he decides to run and party leaders believe he has the best chance of beating Trump in a rematch. However, a handful of Democratic lawmakers have publicly expressed worries about Biden’s age and it remains unclear how he would fare if a younger Republican, not Trump, were his opponent.
On the plus side, Biden does not smoke, does not drink, works out daily in the White House gym, and has not had any major health concerns since undergoing surgery in 1988 after suffering two brain aneurysms.
He tested positive for Covid-19 last July, but did not have a serious form of the disease.
Biden can at times appear visibly exhausted during public events and is prone to mangling sentences, but he’ll often make a show of jogging a few steps across the White House South Lawn when boarding Marine One to show his vigor.
Asked in interviews about the age factor, Biden points to his achievements in office and says simply: “Watch me.”
During Biden’s last checkup, he had a colonoscopy under general anesthesia and transferred his powers for one hour and 25 minutes to Vice President Kamala Harris, making her the first woman in US history to serve briefly as acting president.