White House brushes off Haley’s call for mental competency test

White House aides are confident they can combat GOP attacks on President Biden’s age and mental acuity, saying he has proven time and again that he’s up to the job. 

The criticisms resurfaced this week as Republican Nikki Haley labeled herself a “next generation” candidate in making her opening pitch for her 2024 presidential bid. Haley also insisted that anyone over 75 years old should be subjected to a mental competency test. 

It was a jab at Biden — who will turn 81 in November — and Haley’s 76-year-old rival for the Republican nomination, former President Trump. 

The White House and Biden allies say they understand that age and the president’s mental competency will be at the epicenter of Republican attacks and they are prepared to handle it. 

On Thursday, in a feisty response, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offered a preview of how Team Biden will handle the attacks, pointing to 2021 when he proved his critics wrong and “turned around the economy” and in 2022 when everyone predicted another red wave. 

Biden, she said, “beat them at their own game.”

“Maybe they’re forgetting the wins the president got over the past few years, but I’m happy to remind them anytime,” Jean-Pierre said. 

In an email to The Hill, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates echoed that sentiment, saying Republicans have played the age card and failed.  

“I’m not sure what they think they’re accomplishing,” Bates said. “The trend is not good for them.”  

Still, questions and doubts persist, even among Democrats, about Biden’s age.  

“I love Joe Biden. I’ve always loved Joe Biden. But I don’t think an 80-something should be the leader of the free world,” said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to be candid about the issue. “It’s nothing personal. I think he’s done an amazing job as president but I do wonder about a second term.” 

“I don’t think anyone, if they’re honest, wants an 85-year-old president,” the strategist added. 

Another strategist predicted that Biden’s age — and his handling of the economy — would be the two issues Republicans would lob at him. 

“Obviously age is going to be a popular hobby horse for anyone trying to beat Biden, or keep Trump away from the nomination on the Republican side,” the second strategist said. “In order to do this effectively, you need to link age with performance. 

“You need to convince voters that the advanced age of the people in power is leading to worse outcomes, and making life harder for them. Just age in a vacuum is not going to move voters.” 

Polling this month could give Republicans confidence in the attacks.

It suggests that a majority of Democrats would prefer Biden as a one-term president, with some surveyed pointing to his age. Only 37 percent of Democrats said they want him to seek another term, which was down from 52 percent in the weeks prior to November’s midterm elections, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Seventy percent of Americans in a December poll said they don’t want Biden to run again, largely citing his age, and another poll from November found that 38 percent of Americans say that age hurts a president’s ability to do the job. Fifty-nine percent in that poll said they think there is an age at which someone is too old to hold the presidency and pointed to 74 as that age.

Biden aides and those close to the White House say he has proven he is a capable leader and not the elderly, out-of-touch caricature that Republicans have painted.

They say he can hold his own, as he did last year when he fielded questions from reporters for more than two hours. And he can maintain a break-neck travel schedule that is standard for the commander in chief. 

They also point to last week, when Biden during his State of the Union address veered off script and was able to respond in real time to jeers from Republicans after he accused some in the party of wanting to make changes to Social Security. 

“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office,” Biden said in response to heckling coming from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — who called him a “liar” — and other Republicans. 

“I’ll give you a copy,” Biden said. “I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.” 

Those close to the president also say attacks on Biden’s age will only anger senior citizens, one of the largest voting blocs.

In 2020, The Washington Post reported that Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway warned her colleagues that attacking Biden’s age was chipping away at their support with older voters. 

At the same time, some Democrats argue that Biden has been forthcoming about his health, including on Thursday when Biden had his annual physical.

The results released by the White House said Biden is fit to execute the demands of his job and “remains a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male.”

In a memo following the exam, the president’s physician, Kevin O’Connor, said none of Biden’s pre-existing conditions had worsened.

Those conditions, noted during his last physical, include a stiff gait and high cholesterol. O’Connor said Biden has no symptoms of long COVID-19 and attributed his occasional cough or congestion to gastroesophageal reflux.

Political observers say the transparency will help Biden. 

“The best way for the White House and certainly his campaign to go at this issue is twofold. One, release any relevant medical data that comes after his physical or throughout his campaign, which is important just to be transparent. But two, more importantly, just let them go on the road, let him go work, let him go talk to people,” said Ivan Zapien, a Democratic lobbyist and former DNC official.

Others railed against the Haley’s call for a test.

“There is a competency test for president, and it’s called an election,” said Michael Starr Hopkins, a Democratic strategist. “Voters have made clear they not only support President Biden, but support his agenda as well. Attempts to attack his age will only look desperate and alienate voters.”

Tags 2024 presidential election Donald Trump Karine Jean-Pierre Marjorie Taylor Greene Nikki Haley Nikki Haley President Joe Biden State of the Union

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