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Kamala’s first and last hour as president

Vice President Kamala Harris will be in charge of the country for a brief period on Friday morning when President Joe Biden goes under anesthesia for a colonoscopy being conducted as part of his annual physical. 

The White House said Harris would work out of her office in the West Wing, meaning she will not be in the Oval Office as she assumes presidential power. Harris takes over amid reports she is being sidelined by the administration, which the White House has vigorously denied. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular screenings for colon cancer starting at age 45. A colonoscopy can last about an hour. 

Biden’s motorcade arrived at Walter Reed Military Center at 8:51 a.m. ET on Friday morning, where he was to undergo his first physical as president. It comes the day before his 79th birthday. Biden, wearing a face mask, waved as he went inside.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced early Friday morning that Biden would be examined, adding later he ‘will undergo a routine colonoscopy.’  

‘As was the case when President George W. Bush had the same procedure in 2002 and 2007, and following the process set out in the Constitution, President Biden will transfer power to the Vice President for the brief period of time when he is under anesthesia. The Vice President will work from her office in the West Wing during this time,’ Psaki said.

The White House will publicly release a written summary of the Biden’s physical later Friday afternoon, she noted. 

As required by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, Biden will sign a letter to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives saying he is unable to discharge his duties while under anesthesia and designate Harris. Biden will send them another letter upon the conclusion of the procedure, noting he has resumed his duties of office.  

Biden’s procedure comes as the House was voting to approve his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better package of social safety net programs.  

Walter Reed Medical Center, a military center in Bethesda, Md., is the traditional hospital of presidents for their medical needs. 

Donald Trump was treated there when he had COVID. And Trump made a mysterious visit to Walter Reed in November 2019 that was later revealed to be a colonoscopy. At the time the White House said he got a partial physical. 

But former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham indicated in her book on the administration Trump was getting a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

The reason for the secrecy, Grisham explained, was that Trump didn’t want to hand over power to Vice President Mike Pence, even for a short amount of time, because it would be ‘showing weakness.’

He also didn’t want to be ‘the butt of the joke,’ she wrote, on late-night TV.   

Walter Reed Medical Center, a military center in Bethesda, Md., is the traditional hospital of presidents for their medical needs. 

Donald Trump was treated there when he had COVID. And Trump made a mysterious visit to Walter Reed in November 2019 that was later revealed to be a colonoscopy. At the time the White House said he got a partial physical. 

But former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham indicated in her book on the administration Trump was getting a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

The reason for the secrecy, Grisham explained, was that Trump didn’t want to hand over power to Vice President Mike Pence, even for a short amount of time, because it would be ‘showing weakness.’

He also didn’t want to be ‘the butt of the joke,’ she wrote, on late-night TV.   

Biden’s visit to Walter Reed on Friday comes amid questions about the health of the country’s oldest president and, as earlier this week, a new poll found that voters were split on whether Biden is mentally fit enough and healthy enough to handle the presidency. 

Only 40 per cent of voters surveyed in a new Politico/Morning Consult poll agreed with the statement that Biden ‘is in good health,’ while 50 per cent disagreed.

Biden got a tougher rating when it came to his mental health. 

Asked whether Biden is ‘mentally fit’, voters were close to an even split: 46 per cent says he is and 48 per cent disagree. 

And asked whether Biden is ‘stable,’ voters are split again with 44 per cent saying he is and 50 per cent disagreeing.

Voters’ opinions on the president’s health appear to be shifting with more of them concerned about his fitness. 

In October 2020, when the poll last surveyed the question, voters believed Biden was in good health by a 19-point margin compared to this recent 10 point one. Addtionally, in that October 2020 survey, voters believed Biden was mentally fit by a 21-point margin.

Biden turns 79 on Saturday and the last extensive update on his health came in December 2019 – during the presidential campaign – where his doctor described him as ‘a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency.’  ‘  

President Donald Trump, who was 70 when he was elected president, mocked Biden’s stamina on the campaign trail in last year’s election, dubbing him with the moniker ‘Sleepy Joe.’ 

Trump’s first physical was released in January 2018, a year after he was sworn-in. 

An exuberant Dr. Ronny Jackson, now a Republican House member in Congress, praised Trump for having ‘incredible genes,’ which allowed the then 71-year-old president to consume Diet Coke, McDonald’s, ice cream and exercise very little and still stay in ‘very, very good health.’    

‘I have absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability,’ Jackson also assured reporters, after the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House had raised questions about Trump’s mental state. 

While Trump regularly ‘speaks his mind,’ Jackson argued, he ‘found no reason whatsoever to think that the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought process.’  

Biden hasn’t helped questions about his health with his tendency toward gaffes – an afflication that has plagued him on and off throughout his more than 40 years in politics. 

In his first few months in office, he would refer to his vice president as ‘President Kamala Harris’ and White House staff recently had to clarify comments he made on the situation in Taiwan. 

In March, Biden stumbled three times while climbing the stairs to board Air Force One, which his staff blamed on the windy day. 

The president does stay physically active – he and First Lady Jill Biden ride bikes when they are at their vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and he plays golf at the local country club when he’s home in Wilmington. 

Earlier this week, Harris hit back at claims she is being misused as vice president, saying she doesn’t feel like she’s being under utilized by President Biden and his team. 

‘No. I don’t,’ she told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired on Good Morning America Thursday morning. ‘I am very, very excited about the work that we have accomplished but I am also absolutely, absolutely clear-eyed that there is a lot more to do and we’re going to get it done.’

She rattled off a list of her accomplishments, including the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, her recent trip to France, her work with members of Congress and her presiding over the Senate as she defended her job as vice president. 

Harris’ interview came amid reports of chaos in the vice president’s office and frustration among West Wing staff with her and her team, which the White House has vigorously pushed back on, denying Harris is being sidelined as her poll numbers sink. ‘ 

She also stressed her strong relationship with Biden and dismissed her low approval ratings which plummeted to 28% in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll of registered voters earlier this month.

‘Polls, they go up, they go down,’ Harris said. ‘But I think what is most important is that we remain consistent with what we need to do to deal with the issues that we’re presented with at this moment.’

She also said she and Biden have not spoken about the 2024 presidential race.

‘Absolutely not,’ she said when Stephanopoulos asked if Biden told her he would seek a second term. 

The White House has gone full throat with their defense of her after a CNN report claimed Biden was distancing himself from Harris because of her sliding poll numbers while the vice president felt isolated and frustrated with being given some of the most difficult issues for the administration in her portfolio. 

And, in a troubling sign for Democrats, Biden’s approval rating dropped to 36 per cent in a new poll out Thursday and most voters said they want to see Republicans take control of Congress.

The new numbers – from a Quinnipiac University Poll – indicate a level of frustration among voters with the party in power as the country prepares for next year’s midterm election.

Harris and Biden put on a show of force at Monday’s signing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The two walked out onto the South Lawn together and exchanged hugs.  

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted Harris is an ‘incredible leader’ and White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued Harris receives more criticism because of her status as a woman of color. Harris is the country’s first female and first black vice president. 

The president has publicly said he intends to run again. And there has been anonymous chatter among Democrats that, if he does, he should consider replacing Harris. There’s additional speculation that if he doesn’t run again, Harris would not be the strongest contender to replace him. Some have suggested Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would be a better candidate for the nomination.

Biden, however, did not name either Harris or Buttigieg as the person in charge of implementing his infrastructure plan and watching where the dollars go – a role he noted he played for Barack Obama in 2009 for stimulus money distribution. He named former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Harris did not answer about the president’s 2024 plans the first time Stephanopoulos asked her, however. He had to press her a second time on the issue. 

Harris began her response by listing off what she had done Wednesday – the day the interview was taped – including beginning the day with Biden at the presidential daily briefing and attending meetings. 

When Stephanopoulos asked her again, she said definitively it had not been discussed. 

Harris also defended her work on the root causes of migration. Republicans have pounded Harris and the administration over the numbers of migrants crossing the Southern border. 

‘It won’t be overnight. We can’t just flip a switch and make it better,’ she said.  

Senior Biden aides having been trying to pour cold water on the CNN article published Sunday night with background from nearly three dozen sources suggesting that Biden had ‘given up’ on Harris after a poll showed her approval at 28 percent. 

Privately, Harris aides complain that she has been set up to fail, and handed a portfolio that is not commensurate with her historic status as the first woman, and first woman of color, to hold the vice president’s office. 

‘They’re consistently sending her out there on losing issues in the wrong situations for her skill set,’ said a former high-level Harris aide.

Her aides also complain that on the issues that she has been given control over – such as the border crisis and voting rights – she doesn’t have White House backing to follow through. 

In contrast, they say the president has been more vigorous in defending Buttigieg. 

At the same time, Biden’s staff are privately disappointed with Harris over self-inflicted controversies, like her ‘awkward’ laughter when asked about visiting the border by NBC’s Lester Holt.

Psaki said on Wednesday evening that Harris is judged with a higher bar being a woman and a woman of color. She slammed the vice president’s Republican critics.

‘I do think it’s been easier and harsher from some on the right-wing who have gone after her because she is the first woman, the first woman of color,’ Psaki told Politico in an interview. 

Psaki said that while it may never be acknowledged publicly there is ‘no question’ that the attacks on Harris are in part because she’s a first ‘many times over.’   

‘It’s a lot to have on your shoulders,’ Psaki said, adding that while Harris wants to be seen as the ‘talented, experienced expert, substantive policy person, partner to the president’ that she is, instead some of the attacks are ‘beyond’ – and they’re because of her identity. 

Originally posted here.

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