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How President Biden's latest physical could affect his expected reelection bid

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The White House released the results of President Biden's latest physical today. It's a document that's being read with more than the usual amount of interest because the president is 80 years old and is expected to soon declare that he plans to run for a second term in office. NPR's Tamara Keith is at the White House. And Tam, tell us what this report says.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yes. So the top line, I guess, is that the president's doctor says that he remains healthy and vigorous and is fit to execute the duties of the presidency. Now, digging in a little deeper, he says that there were no residual symptoms from COVID. The president, over the summer, had COVID. No signs of long COVID. Last year, in his report, the doctor talked about a stiffening of the president's gait as he walked. And that stiffening remains, though it hasn't gotten any worse. And the causes are, after an extensive neurological study - it is not Parkinson's. It is not a stroke. It is caused, according to the president's doctor, Kevin O'Connor - is caused by a combination of spinal arthritis, mild post-fracture foot arthritis and mild sensory peripheral neuropathy affecting the way he feels his feet. We'll note that a small lesion was found on the president's chest and sent for a biopsy. Those results are still pending. That was found today. The doctor notes that the president spent a lot of time in the sun as a youth. President Biden is doing better than I am, certainly. He works out five days a week, and he has lost six pounds. I cannot say the same.

SHAPIRO: OK, so pretty healthy. He is still, as we said, 80 years old and the oldest president in American history. So what are the politics of this report?

KEITH: Right. He is 80 years old, and he has said he intends to run for re-election. He hasn't made it official yet, but all signs are pointing in that direction. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who jumped into the race this week for the Republican nomination, is trying to make an issue out of age and said that there should be a competency test for any candidate over the age of 75. I will note that former President Donald Trump is already in the race, and he is 76 years old, so she's kind of going after both of them. Haley's proposal was all about grabbing attention, and it had the White House answering questions today about whether President Biden is really up for another term. Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary, was quick to push back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: The president always says this, which is watch him. And if you watch him, you'll see that he has a grueling schedule that he keeps up with that sometimes some of us are not able to keep up with.

KEITH: Yeah. And I will say that the president, when he returned from his medical appointment today - he was at Walter Reed for about 3 hours. When he returned, he ran across the South Lawn. It was wet. It was raining. But he was also making sure that there is video out there of him running. And certainly, this clean physical is one more thing that could clear the way for a re-election campaign that is already taking shape.

SHAPIRO: And so is there anything in particular that folks are looking to as we, you know, look at this assessment of his health?

KEITH: Well, certainly, we will be waiting for the results of that biopsy. That is something that people are looking for. Don't expect to hear from Dr. O'Connor in person. He is unlikely to take any questions. This was a fairly dry memo. Although there are plenty of questions to ask, this White House isn't interested in drawing too much attention to the president's health or making a star of his doctor. They would much rather focus on his accomplishments that they say are plenty.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.