President Joe Biden marked his 81st birthday on Monday by repeatedly joking about getting older, even as the White House vigorously defended his stamina and dismissed pollsters — and one prominent Democrat — suggesting the issue could cost him votes. In next year’s elections.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president’s age should not be the primary focus.
“Our view is that it’s not about age, it’s about the experience of the president,” she said, highlighting that Biden has successfully championed several key pieces of legislation through Congress — including a sweeping public works package and an initiative on public health and combating climate change. He visited active war zones not controlled by the US military in Ukraine and Israel.
“What we are saying is that we have to judge him by what he did, not by his numbers,” Jean-Pierre said. “I would put the president’s stamina, his wisdom, his ability to get this done on behalf of the American people against anyone. Anyone, any day of the week.”
As for Biden, he resorted to humor.
“By the way, it’s my birthday today,” Biden told a crowd on the South Lawn of the White House as he pardoned the Liberty and Belle turkeys.
“I just want you to know that it’s hard to be 60,” the president added, laughing. “difficult.”
Noting that the pre-Thanksgiving pardon ceremony dates back 76 years, Biden also said: “I want you to know that I wasn’t there — the first time.”
Age is a concern in polls
Biden, the most senior president in US history, has used humor for months to try to defuse the issue — even as polls suggest it’s no laughing matter. An August poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 77% of American adults, including 69% of Democrats, view Biden as too old to be effective for another four years.
As he seeks a second term, Biden may be headed for a rematch with former President Donald Trump, who at 77 years old was the oldest person elected to a first term until Biden’s election. Trump himself has made some notable recent missteps. However, the same AP-NROC poll found that 51% of adults — and just 28% of Republicans — said Trump is too old for a second term.
Coinciding with Biden’s birthday, Trump issued a new message from his doctor stating that “the former president’s general health is excellent.”
“His physical examinations were within the normal range and his cognitive tests were exceptional,” wrote Dr. Bruce Aronwald of New Jersey, who said he had been Trump’s physician since 2001 and examined him as recently as Sept. 13.
Aronwald added that Trump’s latest laboratory results were “more positive than previous tests on some of the most important parameters,” citing his recent weight loss, which he attributed to “improving diet and continuing daily physical exercise, while maintaining a strict schedule.”
The letter does not mention Trump’s weight, blood pressure or other test results, however it asserts that he “will continue to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle for years to come.”
Doubts from the Obama camp
Trump is not the only one highlighting this issue.
David Axelrod, who helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 and later served as a senior White House adviser in an administration that included Biden as vice president, has been particularly outspoken recently in his comments to The New York Times.
“I think his chance here is 50-50, but no better than that, maybe a little worse,” Axelrod told columnist Maureen Dowd of Biden’s chances in 2024. “He thinks he can cheat nature here and that’s really risky. They have a real problem if they’re counting on Trump to win it for them. And I remember Hillary did that too.”
That was a reference to Hillary Clinton, who lost her race in 2016 with Trump.
Jean-Pierre said Monday that the Biden family would spend the president’s birthday as usual, with a family Thanksgiving gathering on Nantucket, and that they planned to eat coconut cake, another tradition.
But she also tried to refute Axelrod’s comment when she said of negative polling around 2024: “There’s no alarm going on behind the scenes.”
“I’m not going to comment to everyone who has a comment,” she said, adding: “It’s not my job to tell people what to think.”
Biden announced his re-election campaign in April, and said at the time that his age “doesn’t register with me.”
“They’re going to watch a race, and they’re going to be judging whether I’m going to get it or not,” the president said of voters. “I respect them when they take a hard look at it. I’ll take a hard look at that, too. I took a hard look at it before I decided to run.”
Jean-Pierre reiterated that voters will make their own decision, saying: “We will not change the minds of the Americans. The Americans will feel what they feel, and we respect that.”