President Joe Biden's staff is urgently working to prevent him from taking a disastrous fall before the 2024 election, the White House confirmed to Axios.
The strategy involves Biden working with a physical therapist to improve his balance, wearing tennis shoes more often to avoid slipping, and using the short stairs on Air Force One, Axios reported on Tuesday.
"Democrats, including some in the administration, are terrified Biden will have a bad fall—with a nightmare scenario of it happening in the weeks before the 2024 election," according to Axios. "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."
White House spokesman Andrew Bates acknowledged what the news site called the "urgent project to protect [Biden's] reelection bid," albeit indignantly.
"This isn't new—it was proactively and transparently disclosed," Bates told Axios. "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."
Biden, the oldest-ever serving U.S. president, turns 81 in less than two months. He has repeatedly tripped in public, including, mostly dramatically on stage at the Air Force's graduation in June. His mental and physical decline have also become increasingly evident in other ways, as NBC News reported in July:
Apparent to anyone paying attention is that the Biden they may remember from the Robert Bork Supreme Court confirmation hearings of 1987, or the vice presidential debate with Sarah Palin in 2008, is a different man today. His gait is less steady, his speech not as fluid. He has confused Iraq with Ukraine and Rolling Fork, Mississippi, with "Rolling Stone." At a conference last year, he looked out at the audience and called for a congresswoman who had recently died in a car crash.
The same NBC News report noted, as have others, that Biden's team uses a variety of "age-compensating measures," including greater use of the shorter stairs on Air Force One, skipping traditional nighttime socializing with fellow world leaders on foreign trips, and relying on "extra-large font on his teleprompter and note cards to remind him of the points he wants to make in meetings."
The New York Times reported in June that Biden's "staff schedules most of his public appearances between noon and 4 p.m. and leave him alone on weekends as much as possible." Politico reported in November that Biden regularly exercises with a physical therapist. Those visits are meant to improve the president's balance and date back at least to November 2021, according to Axios's report on Tuesday.
"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,'" Axios wrote.
While Democratic lawmakers, strategists, and activists have reportedly grown alarmed by Biden's frailty, the party has largely remained united around his reelection. The White House has not denied that accommodations are being made for Biden, but it has refused to acknowledge that they are related to age.
"Eighty is the new forty. Didn’t you hear?" White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre joked to reporters earlier this month, following the release of yet another poll showing large majorities of Americans, including most Democrats, think Biden is too old to serve another term as president.
"Look, you know, I get asked this question about once a week, maybe twice a week. I don’t know. I’ve lost track. This is a president, if you think about it, in 2019, he got the same criticism. In 2020, he got the same criticism. In 2022, he got the same criticism. And every time he beats the naysayers."