Biden underwent medical examination within days of shaky debate

President Biden told Democratic governors during a private meeting at the White House on Wednesday night that he needed more sleep and had instructed his staff not to schedule any events for him after 8 p.m., people familiar with his comments said, signaling that Biden now believes he needs to make changes to improve his public appearance.

The president’s remarks during Wednesday’s meeting came after Gov. Josh Green (D-Hawaii), a longtime emergency room physician, asked about his physical condition. The meeting was an hour-long discussion with the governors in which Biden sought to reassure them about his political standing, physical well-being and path to reelection.

Biden responded that he had had a medical checkup since last week’s presidential debate and remained in good health. “It’s just my brain,” he said, according to people with knowledge of the meeting, a comment staffers quickly described as a joke.

“He was clearly joking and then said, ‘Just kidding,’” said Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon.

On Thursday, during a rainy Independence Day evening that delayed his appearance by about an hour, Biden came out to speak at a barbecue for active military personnel and their families, declaring himself “proud to be your commander in chief.”

He read from an autocue, but at one point he seemed to start a story during the brief remarks and then abruptly stop himself. He told of a recent trip to France, a trip during which he visited a cemetery for American soldiers who had died in World War I.

“The former president didn’t want to go there,” Biden said. “I probably shouldn’t say that. Anyway. We just have to remember who the hell we are: We’re the United States of America!” Biden was referring to Donald Trump, his predecessor and likely 2024 rival, who didn’t visit the cemetery during his own trip to France five years earlier.

He then lingered for a moment to shake hands and someone shouted a message of support from the crowd, saying, “Keep fighting. We need you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he replied.

President Biden speaks during a Fourth of July event for U.S. military personnel and their families at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden’s campaign has been trying to get back on its feet in recent days, and Wednesday night’s meeting with governors at the White House was intended as a step in rallying support.

Three governors came forward that meeting to talk to reporters and express their support for Biden, while others released statements and posts on social media. The meeting was largely optimistic, according to participants, but there were also signs of the lingering unrest in the aftermath of the debate.

For example, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) told Biden they were worried he would lose their states, according to rally attendees. In 2020, Biden won New Mexico by 11 points and Maine by 9 points. Various details about the rally were first reported by Politico and the New York Times.

Biden’s comment about needing more sleep was one of several explanations he offered for a debate performance in which he stumbled over words and sometimes struggled to finish sentences. He attributed the performance to being sick, jet lagged, a head full of numbers and not listening to his staff.

Biden’s campaign indicated that avoiding events after 8 p.m. would not impose major restrictions.

“President Bush went to bed at 9, and President Obama made dinner at 6:30. Normal presidents strike a balance, and Joe Biden is no exception,” Kevin Munoz, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “Hardly the same rigor as Donald Trump, who spends half his day on Truth Social ranting about plans to cause a recession and the other half playing golf.”

Earlier in the day, Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for about 30 minutes, senior administration officials said, while top national security officials were with the president in the Oval Office for about 90 minutes.

White House officials believe they have reached a “pretty significant opening” in Gaza ceasefire negotiations that could include the release of Israeli hostages. The coming days will be important as talks continue in Doha, a senior administration official said.

In radio interviews on Thursday morning, Biden acknowledged his poor performance in the debates while attempting to focus on his accomplishments as president and turn the spotlight back on Trump, whom he portrays as a threat to America’s fundamental values.

“I had a bad night,” he said on “The Earl Ingram Show,” a Wisconsin program. “I blew it, I made a mistake. … That’s 90 minutes on stage. Look what I’ve done in 3½ years.”

“We’re going to win this election,” Biden added. “We’re going to beat Donald Trump like we beat him in 2020. I’m going to beat him again.”

Voter concerns about President Biden’s age date back to 2019. The fallout from his poor debate performance has made it a turning point for his re-election campaign. (Video: JM Rieger, Adriana Usero/The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The president took the opportunity to call out some of the derogatory ways Trump has spoken about black voters, saying, “I’m sorry to be so upset, but he’s just done terrible things in the community, and he has about as much interest and concern for black and minority communities as the man on the moon.”

Biden also noted that the interview aired on July 4, and was about what he sees as an existential threat to democracy. “We cannot, cannot, cannot let anyone win,” he said. “It would just be a disaster for America.”

In a separate interview with Andrea Lawful-Sanders, a Black radio host from Philadelphia, Biden said the next president could appoint “at least two justices, maybe more” to the Supreme Court. Asked about his message to voters who might skip the election, he said: “If you don’t do something about it, you’re the one to blame.”

The Republican National Committee took a different approach to Independence Day, saying Wednesday that this will be the most expensive Fourth of July ever thanks to “Bidenflation.” The RNC, citing the American Farm Bureau, said ground beef is up 11 percent from last year, sandwiches are up 7 percent and lemonade is up 12 percent.

“Biden’s policies are causing inflation and Americans know it,” the statement said.

The Biden team sought to use the holiday to shift the discussion away from the president’s shaky performance in last week’s debate, when Democrats attacked Trump as a wannabe king who would trample on the country’s founding principles if he retook the White House. “This July 4th, Donald Trump wants to make America a monarchy again,” the Biden campaign warned in an email blast.

The campaign ran an ad arguing that this week’s Supreme Court decision granting presidents immunity for their official acts would allow Trump to rule by decree.

“America was founded in spite of a king,” the ad sings, set to ominous music and images of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in haze. “He’s already led a rebellion and threatened to become a dictator ‘on day one.’”

Democratic leaders have long sought to portray the presidential race as a showdown between Biden and a would-be tyrant who would destroy the country’s core values ​​of freedom and democracy. They have cited Trump’s promises to attack his political opponents, his embrace of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, his harsh statements about immigrants and similar rhetoric.

The presidential debate abruptly shifted the conversation to territory far more favorable to Trump. Leading Democrats and Republicans immediately engaged in a debate over Biden’s age — he is 81, Trump is 78 — and his ability to campaign and serve another four years as president.

Against that backdrop, the White House has faced questions in recent days about whether it is willing to release additional medical records from Biden.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates confirmed Thursday that Biden had a checkup with his doctor a few days after the debate, as the president had told governors. “The president was seen to check for a cold and was recovering well,” Bates said.

But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters twice on Wednesday that the president had not undergone any medical tests since his annual medical checkup in February.

“We could talk to his doctor about that. And that’s a no,” she said in response to a question. Administration officials said Thursday that she was referring to a full physical exam and that his recent check-in did not involve a battery of tests.

But when asked later in the briefing whether he needed to see a doctor, particularly in the run-up to the debate, whether he had a cold, she also said no. “He didn’t. He hasn’t been seen by a doctor,” she said. “It’s a cold, guys. It’s a cold. And I know it affects everyone differently. We’ve all had colds, so no, he hasn’t been seen by a doctor.”

In recent days, Biden’s top advisers have accepted that they have a short window to convince a broad swath of the Democratic Party that he is fit for office, or face intense pressure to step aside. Thursday’s comments about Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric are part of a parallel effort to remind voters of the former president’s vulnerabilities and paint him as an “unpatriotic” figure.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison sent an email warning that “the soul of the nation is at stake.”

“Will we vote for a president who believes in our democracy and in the principles of justice, liberty and equality?” Harrison wrote. “Or will we succumb on ‘day one’ to a wannabe dictator who puts himself above our Constitution, our principles, and the democracy we hold dear?”

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