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U.S. Politics Biden dismisses age issue, pledges medical disclosures

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to members of the media, Sept. 13, 2019, in Houston.

Eric Gay/The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is shrugging off thinly veiled criticism from younger rivals that he is too old for the Oval Office.

The 76-year-old former vice-president told reporters Friday that he’ll prove his fitness through the campaign, even asking one questioner jokingly: “You wanna wrestle?” And he pledged to release his medical records “when I get my next physical” before the Iowa caucuses begin the voting process in February.

“There’s no reason for me not to release my medical records,” Mr. Biden said.

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Age has been an undercurrent of the Democratic primary for months, with Mr. Biden, 78-year-old Bernie Sanders and 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren leading the crowded field vying to take on President Donald Trump, who is 73.

The issue spilled into the open Thursday, when 44-year-old Julian Castro used the third Democratic primary debate to suggest during a health care discussion that Mr. Biden was confused about his own proposals.

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Mr. Castro asked, wrongly accusing Mr. Biden of misstating how people would secure health insurance coverage under his proposal for a Medicare-like “public option” plan to compete alongside private insurance.

Cory Booker, who is 50, added after the debate in a CNN interview that there are “a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling.”

Both Mr. Castro and Mr. Booker are lagging far behind the top tier and looking for ways to gain a toehold in a campaign dominated by septuagenarians.

Mr. Biden said Friday, as he has before, that his age is a legitimate issue for his opponents to use and voters to consider. But the Thursday debate marked a new turn with Mr. Booker and Mr. Castro directly raising the issue.

If Mr. Biden is elected, he would be 78 on Inauguration Day, older on his first day as president than Ronald Reagan was when he left office in January, 1989. Bernie Sanders, who would be 79, also would be the oldest president in U.S. history. And Ms. Warren, who would be 71, would be the oldest newly inaugurated first-term president, eclipsing Mr. Trump, who was 70 when he took office.

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But Mr. Biden has faced the most persistent whispers about his age, particularly when he misspeaks when campaigning – a circumstance his aides note has been a well-known part of his decades-long political career. Near the conclusion of Thursday’s debate, Mr. Biden offered a stem-winding answer to a question about structural racism, at one point saying parents could help teach their children language skills by using a “record player.”

Said Mr. Booker: “I don’t remember the last time I saw a record player … But there are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder.”

Mr. Booker told CNN that he wasn’t saying Mr. Biden is too old to be president, just that he wants a nominee who can excite the full spectrum of Democratic voters.

Mr. Castro insisted after the debate that he wasn’t alluding to Mr. Biden’s age at all when he asked Mr. Biden multiple times whether he was forgetting the details of his own health-care proposal. The audience at Texas Southern University seemed to reach a different conclusion, reacting with gasps, groans and jeers at Mr. Castro’s questioning.

Mr. Biden’s aides on Friday called it a “low blow.”

The candidate himself avoided that characterization and didn’t mention Mr. Castro or Mr. Booker by name.

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“We actually had an open debate on health care, and I felt very good about the debate on health care,” he said. “What I saw last night is fewer and fewer personal attacks … So I’m getting more and more comfortable with the way the debates are moving.”

At an earlier fundraiser Friday, Mr. Biden seemed to take a slightly more aggressive posture, subtly noting his continued place atop a dwindling field. “I know I get criticized,” he told several dozen donors, before adding with a grin, “although fewer and fewer are criticizing me.”

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