Scoop: Biden team's don't-let-him-trip mission
Driving the news: As voters express deep concerns about the 80-year-old president's age and fitness for office, Biden's team is taking extra steps to prevent him from stumbling in public — as he did in June, when he tripped over a sandbag at the Air Force Academy.
- With a physical therapist, Biden has been doing exercises to improve his balance as far back as November 2021.
- Since his stumble in June, he has been wearing tennis shoes more often to avoid slipping — and using the short stairs on Air Force One, entering the plane on a lower deck than before.
Why it matters: Democrats, including some in the administration, are terrified that Biden will have a bad fall — with a nightmare scenario of it happening in the weeks before the November 2024 election.
Zoom in: Some senior Democrats privately have been frustrated with Biden's advance team for months, citing the sandbag incident and noting that the president often appears not to know which direction to go after he speaks at a podium.
- Often without context, Republicans have used video clips of Biden looking confused about where to go after speeches to raise further questions about his age.
Biden's balance difficulties are likely the result of what his physician has diagnosed as "a combination of significant spinal arthritis" and "mild post-fracture foot arthritis."
- Biden works out many mornings with physical therapist Drew Contreras, who also worked with former President Obama.
- Biden's doctor has recommended exercises for balance, which he called "proprioceptive maintenance maneuvers."
- What the maneuvers entail is unclear.
- "I have never heard the term 'proprioceptive maintenance maneuvers.' It is not a clinical term in standard use," said Professor James Gordon, associate dean and chair of the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California.
Asked for more detail, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told Axios: "This isn't new — it was proactively and transparently disclosed in a 2021 report from the president's doctor and again this year."
- "This article fits an unfortunate pattern of media attempting to sensationalize something that has long been public, rather than covering the president's very real achievements for hardworking Americans," Bates added.
Zoom out: Recent polls have shown Biden's age is among voters' chief concerns about him. Voters also have significant age concerns about former President Trump — the likely GOP nominee.
- Three-fourths of Americans see Biden as too old for office, according to an AP-NORC poll last month. About half also saw Trump, 77, as too old.
Beyond Trump's legal issues, his erratic behavior — as evident this week in his social media posts — has raised concerns about the former president’s mental state.
- In a flurry of posts this past weekend, Trump accused exiting Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley of a "treasonous act" and suggested he could be executed.
- Trump also mentioned "treason" in vowing to use the presidency to investigate NBC News' parent company, Comcast, over "vicious" coverage of him.
Between the lines: Biden's team is betting that any mockery he receives over using the shorter Air Force One steps and wearing tennis shoes will be worth it to avoid another public stumble.
- The Biden campaign's calculus is similar to its efforts in 2020 to prevent him from getting COVID, even as those steps — such as strict limits on in-person campaigning— led to memes mocking Biden's "basement campaign."
Flashback: Some Democrats worry about Biden having an accident like Republican Bob Dole did in September 1996, when he accidentally fell off a stage at a rally weeks before the election.