White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement claiming Trump was taking advantage of a “free weekend here in Washington” to begin parts of his annual physical exam—even though his last “annual” physical came in February 2019. While it’s notinconceivablethat Trump would motorcade 11 miles to suburban Maryland on the spur of the moment on a Saturday afternoon to get a jump on his February physical, it’s not how things are normally done with the U.S. president. White House facilities are equipped to perform many routine lab tests. Trump seconded his press secretary’s explanation shortly after midnight on Sunday, tweeting that this was “phase one” of his yearly physical. “Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year,” Trump continued.
But Trump and Grisham’s rationalizations for his spur-of-the-moment visit just don’t add up. Given what we know about Trump’s medical health—he’s obese and was judged in 2018 of being at moderate risk of having a heart attack in the next three to five years—we have every reason to question the Trump-Grisham account. That Trump has proven himself a liar several thousand times over during his presidency and his long-running caginess about his medical state contribute to the doubt.
One of the earliest soundings on Trump’s health arrived in a December 2015 letter from his personal doctor, gastroenterologist Harold Bornstein, stating that if elected president, Trump would be “the healthiest individual” ever to take office. Medical experts laughed out loud at the letter’s hyperbolic language and laughed harder still in 2018 when Dr. Bornstein admitted that Trump “dictated” the comically over-the-top testimonial (“His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”). Bornstein also disclosed that Trump personnel had “ raided“ his office in February 2017, perhaps illegally, and walked out with Trump’s medical records.
We know our president’s health is not optimal. By his own doctor’s assessment, he’s obese—at a reported weight of 243 pounds and 6 feet, 3 inches tall, giving him a body mass index of 30.4. His 2018 coronary calcium CT scan rendered a score of 133, which means he has a common form of heart disease and is at moderate risk of having a heart attack in the next three to five years, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta reported. Other doctors told theNew York Timesthat Trump’s elevated LDL levels indicate poor cardiofitness. The fact that the only serious exercise Trump gets is stepping out his golf cart to swing a club further encourages us to worry.
One could argue that the president’s pattern of exaggerating his good health is even more dangerous than, let’s say, the many alleged lies Trump has told in attempting to roll back the Ukraine scandal. When a president portrays himself as the picture of fitness when he’s not really 100 percent, he puts the nation at peril should a security crisis envelop his administration. Lord knows that with impeachment hanging over his head, Trump is stressed beyond all imagining. More than ever, the White House job requires someone who is physically up to the task. If Trump is not that man, he needs to let us know so that, at the very least, he exit the 2020 contest—or at the most extreme—let the officials around him activate the 25th Amendment.
Even more trustworthy presidents have a murky record when it comes to transparency about their own health.
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff attempted to cover up his first-term heart attack by calling it “a digestive upset during the night.” John F. Kennedy suffered constant pain from degenerative bone disease and was heavily medicated when president. “Steroids for his Addison’s disease,” historian Robert Dallek wrote in 2013, “pain-killers for his back, antispasmodics for his colitis, [and] antibiotics for urinary-tract infections.”
Some people believe it’s unfair to speculate on a politician’s health without gaining access to the politician’s complete medicals. But Trump is not one of those people. During the 2016 campaign, he diagnosed his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, from afar and all but pronounced her medically unfit. “She could be crazy. She could actually be crazy,” Trump said, adding that she lacked the “stamina” to be president and proceeded to imitate Clinton stumbling while stepping into her car after an event. A Trump campaign television ad reprised the theme, using the stumbling video and a voice-over—”Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the fortitude, strength or stamina to lead in our world”—to make the same point.
You don’t have to think that Trump was lying about his Saturday Walter Reed visit to insist that his health—and the health of the other candidates, especially his fellow septuagenarians Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders—should be a foundational issue in the 2020 campaign. Getting honest answers out of a politician about his or her health begins with asking the right questions. The right question to ask Trump is this: “What explains your unusual visit to Walter Reed?”
Send your medical records, if they’re spicy, via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts are on painkillers, my Twitter feed takes steroids, and my RSS feed, which is still out of commission, is in the loony bin.