Jeanine Santucci and Savannah Behrmann
Published 5:47 PM EDT Sep 2, 2020
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted on Tuesday that he had not been hospitalized for ‘mini strokes,’ accusing the ‘FAKE NEWS’ of pushing the claim.
The response was instantaneous, with opponents challenging the president’s ability to lead the country and his supporters saying people are pushing conspiracy theories about Trump.
Cognitive function has been an attack point throughout the general election. The Trump campaign has taken every opportunity to undermine Democratic nominee Joe Biden based on the former vice president’s occasional verbal gaffes, accusing him of mental decline.
Questions of Trump’s health have once again arisen this week, prompted by a new book from New York Times correspondent Michael Schmidt that reports Vice President Mike Pence was put on standby after the president’s unexpected trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last year.
Trump railed against questions about his health with an unprompted reference to a “series of mini-strokes,” which had not been independently verified by credible news organizations ahead of his tweet.
As Schmidt noted in response to Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning, “Book says nothing about mini-strokes.”
“It never ends! Now they are trying to say that your favorite President, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes. Never happened to THIS candidate – FAKE NEWS,” Trump tweeted.
Montreal Cognitive Assessment: What we know about the cognitive test Trump says he aced
The Trump campaign reacted to a tweet from Joe Lockhart, former Bill Clinton press secretary and CNN political analyst, questioning whether the president had a stroke. The campaign called for Lockhart’s firing for “knowingly pushing a conspiracy theory about President Trump’s health.”
“If another CNN employee said similar things about Barack Obama they’d be fired immediately, so the same standard should be applied here,” the campaign said.
Exclusive poll: The conventions over, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by a narrower 50%-43% in USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll
In a statement on Tuesday following some of the coverage and trends online, White House physician Sean Conley said the president “has asked that I … address the recent public comments regarding his health.”
“I can confirm that President Trump has not experienced nor been evaluated for a cerebrovascular accident (stroke), transient ischemic attack (mini stroke), or any acute cardiovascular emergencies, as have been incorrectly reported in the media,” the statement continued.
Election 2020: Chris Wallace, USA TODAY’s Susan Page among moderators for presidential and vice presidential debates
Pence also told Fox News’ Bret Baier regarding the account in Schmidt’s book, “I don’t recall being told to be on standby. I was informed that the president had a doctor’s appointment.”
“I’ve got to tell you, part of this job is you’re always on standby. You’re vice president of the United States,” Pence continued. “The American people can be confident that this president is in remarkably good health.”
The backlash to the speculated stroke accused Trump of not being fit to lead the country, with critics dragging out footage of the president occasionally stumbling over his speech or displaying physical challenges. The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans opposing Trump’s reelection, posted a video intended to portray Trump as “unwell.”
#Strokeahontas trended, which many said was also racist toward Native Americans in addition to being ableist — a term describing discrimination, stereotypes and mocking based on disability.
Trump also came under scrutiny over a standard cognitive assessment used to screen for certain disorders that he was given as part of his physical, which he bragged about acing.
But the focus on cognitive ability and the mocking of candidates’ perceived impairments harms people with disabilities more than it does either candidate, many disability advocates have said in response.
Rather than focus on substantive issues that disqualify Trump, according to lawyer and activist Matthew Cortland, many have resorted to attacks that further stigmatize disabilities. The ableism “hurts us, not Trump,” Cortland tweeted.
‘It’s Trump vs. not-Trump’: After conventions, Biden looks to excite his base while Trump tries to expand his
When Trump appeared to struggle to walk down what he described as a slippery ramp and lift a glass of water for a drink at a public event, mockery and questions about his fitness for office that ensued only hurt disabled people, according to the Center for American Progress Disability Justice Initiative Director Rebecca Cokley.
“But the answer to Trump’s ableism can’t be to outdo him. Ableism hurts people with disabilities regardless of who pushes it,” Cokley wrote in the Washington Post.
“Hey, there are stroke survivors on Twitter. Imagine. I mean, seriously, imagine,” said political columnist Ana Marie Cox.
After the reports that Pence was put on standby in 2019 in case Trump needed to be put under anesthesia, Biden was asked Wednesday whether he was ever put on standby or whether he had any comment about what the incident meant for Trump’s health.
“I’m not going to speculate on what it means,” Biden said. “What I can say is that nothing that this administration does is normal.”
Biden said the only time he was put on notice during eight years as vice president was when President Barack Obama was out of country.
“Not that I should wait for something to immediately be aware of anything, but that that’s something that might be called for,” Biden said. “It wasn’t called for.”
Contributing: Bart Jansen