(Opinion editor's note: Late Monday, after this editorial was published, the White House issued a memo from Trump's physician, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, who described President Donald Trump's Saturday hospital visit as a "routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care he received throughout the year." Conley added that Trump's cholesterol level was 165, down from 196, which is considered good. "Despite some of the speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues," Conley wrote.)
The presidency is a job unlike any other and imposes physical and mental demands like no other.
So when the White House says President Donald Trump used a rare free Saturday afternoon to pop in at Walter Reed National Medical Military Center for an unscheduled "partial physical," the public is right to have questions.
Look, Trump is 73 years old and has struggled with his weight, high cholesterol and a common form of heart disease. He likes fast food, reportedly seldom exercises beyond golf and, one would think, has a stress level through the roof, what with impeachment and all. So if the president had some heartburn or other symptoms on Saturday — and we can only join others in speculating — it's great that he got checked out. Many people wait too long when something feels amiss and, before you know it, they're driving themselves to a hospital for what turns out to be a heart attack.
Instead, we are told that Trump's energy level is high, and his health "excellent," as demonstrated by "repeated vigorous rally performances." Where have we heard this before? Well, for starters, from his longtime personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, who was credited in 2015 with writing a letter attesting to Trump's "astonishingly excellent" health, and noting, improbably, that Trump would be the "healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Bornstein later said Trump dictated the letter.
Next came then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, who gushed about Trump's health after his 2018 physical. Jackson glibly attributed Trump's health to "incredibly good genes," adding for good measure that, "It's just the way God made him," and noting that with a better diet, "he might live to be 200 years old." Jackson, nominated by Trump for secretary of Veterans Affairs, later withdrew after accusations by his own staff of drinking on the job and improperly dispensing medication, among other things.
Having exhausted its credibility, the White House cannot be the source for information about the president's health. The reasons Trump sought medical attention, as well as the results, should come directly from the Walter Reed doctors who examined him.
And it's not just Trump who owes the public more transparency. This election cycle has some of the oldest candidates ever to run for the highest office. Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, suffered a heart attack in early October and had two stents implanted. His campaign waited days before informing the public. He initially defended the delay, then later said he would release his medical records "as soon as we can." That later became "when appropriate," and most recently, by the end of the year. Sen. Joe Biden, 76, hasn't released his medical records in more than a decade, and says he will do so sometime before the Iowa caucuses in early February.
In an aging population, there are few illusions about the infirmities that show up with advanced years. We also know that a health crisis can come at any age, especially in a country where 60% of the population has at least one chronic condition. Those who seek the presidency should be prepared to offer independent information attesting to their physical condition.
As they weigh other qualifications, the public has a right to the information that will allow them to judge for themselves when a candidate's health might be a factor.