For former President Donald Trump’s GOP allies, President Joe Biden’s recent stumble on the Air Force One stairs was a sign of bigger problems. But Republican senators who’ve met with Biden say the 78-year-old president is just fine, with one describing him as “sharp as a tack.”
Biden’s fitness for office, a longtime fixation among conservatives, is dominating conversations on the right as Trump openly sows doubts about the health of the man who defeated him. One Republican senator recently texted an acquaintance his private suspicions that Biden, the oldest president in history, is mentally unwell. In on-the-record interviews, however, seven GOP senators who’ve met with Biden lately described him as cogent and well-versed on the issues they discussed. And none echoed the warnings many pro-Trump Republicans have issued about Biden amid the chatter about his stair-stepping acumen.
“In the two meetings I was in with the president, he was as sharp as a tack,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in an interview.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who joined Capito at a February meeting with Biden on Covid relief, said he didn’t see anything amiss: “I visited with him in the Oval Office, and he seemed well-prepared and well-briefed for the meeting.”
During the 2020 campaign, Biden — who stuttered as a child — weathered Trump’s attacks on his faculties, dismissing clips of his verbal tics and minor memory lapses. Trump’s allies are still trying to paint Biden as deteriorating in office, even after he stayed largely on-message fielding questions at a 62-minute Thursday press conference. While the more centrist GOP senators interviewed this week wouldn’t criticize colleagues for floating unsubstantiated theories about Biden’s health, their varying reactions show an enduring gulf between those Republicans who publicly emulate Trump’s go-for-the-jugular politics — and those who shy away from it.
Of course, some pro-Trump GOP senators are willing to cross that line.
“It’s sad to see people age,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a Trump ally who has been one of Biden’s most strident critics. Johnson added that he shares concerns about the president’s fitness: “I think many Americans do, from what we’ve seen. It is sad.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) appears to share similar concerns, though he has yet to share them publicly. He texted an acquaintance earlier this month to say that Biden reminds him of someone he knows who began developing Alzheimer’s disease.
“I of course have no medical training and can’t diagnose a condition — especially over someone I don’t personally interact daily — but from a distance I can see that he’s not doing well,” Lee wrote, according to private communications reviewed by POLITICO. “Sad. And disturbing.”
Lee’s office declined to comment further on those messages.