WASHINGTON — President Biden’s doctor said last year that he believes Biden “understands what’s going on” and that a cognitive test is not necessary “because of just who he is as president,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.
Jean-Pierre told reporters that presidential physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor made the remark to her sometime after the 81-year-old president’s annual physical in February 2023 as questions swirled about his mental fitness — months before special counsel Robert Hur’s report on Biden’s mishandling of classified records poured fuel Thursday on broadly held public perceptions of Biden being in mental decline.
“I mean, look, I’m not a medical doctor, so certainly I’m not going to stand here and opine on tests or anything of that nature,” the press secretary said at her regular briefing.
“What I can say is that … I remember talking to the president’s doctor last year when I was asked about a cognitive test, when the president’s physical came out, and he said to me — and I’m paraphrasing because it was over a year ago at this point — that because of the president’s actions every day, what he deals with — with world leaders, the domestic issues that he has to deal with — that shows that the president is very much active and understands what’s going on.”
O’Connor said, according to Jean-Pierre, that he “didn’t believe a test like that was warranted because of just who he is as president of the United States and everything he has to deal with.
“But again, I’m not a medical doctor,” the press secretary concluded.
In a break from historical practice, O’Connor never has been allowed to take reporter questions about Biden’s health.
Jean-Pierre was responding to long-shot Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s demand for Biden to undergo a “mental competency” exam after Hur’s report said the president should not face criminal charges in part because “at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
Hur wrote that during five hours of questioning on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, Biden “did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (‘if it was 2013 — when did I stop being Vice President?’), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (‘in 2009, am I still Vice President?’).”
The report adds that Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died [in May 2015]. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him. Among other things, he mistakenly said he ‘had a real difference’ of opinion with General Karl Eikenberry, when, in fact, Eikenberry was an ally whom Mr. Biden cited approvingly in his Thanksgiving  memo to President Obama.”
Biden lashed out at the description of his mental acuity at a rapidly arranged Thursday night press conference, insisting, “My memory is fine!” and “I know what the hell I’m doing!”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who is next in line to replace Biden if health challenges require him to step down, and several other White House officials stressed Friday that Biden was handling the aftermath of Hamas terrorists’ surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel when he sat for questions from Hur’s team.
“His mind was on other things,” said White House counsel’s office spokesman Ian Sams.
It was not clear whether Biden requested the interview be rescheduled in the wake of the Hamas attack, or why no such request was made in light of the apparent stress on the commander-in-chief.
But Hur’s report was released following a flurry of errors by Biden, including a trio of remarks in the past week confusing the leaders of Germany and France with their deceased predecessors.
On Thursday night, following his rant against Hur Biden mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the president of Mexico.
A well-placed Democratic operative told The Post Friday that it’s becoming “realistic” that Harris may have to take over for Biden at some point as a result of the president’s diminished mental health — though they suspect that possibility won’t alter the composition of the 2024 Democratic ticket.
Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination to face Biden in November, unsuccessfully campaigned for a second term in 2020 by arguing that Biden was mentally “shot” and alleged that the decision by Hur not to prosecute Biden justice showed a “two-tiered system of justice.”
Trump, 77, is younger than Biden by three years and seven months, and faces 40 criminal charges and up to 450 years in prison for allegedly mishandling classified information after leaving office as president in 2021. His trial is set to begin May 20 in South Florida.
Polls have repeatedly found that the public views Biden’s cognitive status as a matter of concern.
A New York Times poll in November found 71% of swing-state voters say Biden is “too old to be an effective president” compared to 39% who said the same of Trump.
A Wall Street Journal poll released in September found that 73% of registered voters believed Biden was too old, versus just 47% who said so of Trump.
And a Washington Post-ABC News poll in June found that 32% of voters believe Biden has the mental sharpness needed to be president — while 54% said the same of Trump.