During a speech President Trump gave Wednesday, many observers noticed something different about his vocal delivery. The president seemed to have difficulty pronouncing certain words, with "s" sounds in particular coming out slurred. Amid concerns over why he was slurring, Trump will release the medical records from his upcoming examination in January, according to the White House.
Responding on Thursday to a reporter's question about Trump's seemingly impaired speech, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the media attention to the incident "pretty ridiculous."
"The president's throat was dry. Nothing more than that," Sanders told the press room.
Sanders went on to say Trump would follow presidential protocol and undergo an annual medical examination at Walter Reed hospital. She said those records would be made public.
Puzzled and concerned reactions to Trump's speech were almost immediate, as the president's pronunciation deteriorated noticeably by the end of his comments. Trump was making a speech on Wednesday about his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a major change in U.S. policy that broke with decades of White House precedent. Trump announced that his administration would begin plans to move the U.S. embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Concerns about the president's health are not new. During the 2016 campaign, Politico ran a lengthy article entitled "Is Donald Trump Too Old to Be President?" Author Michael Tortorello referenced the advanced ages of all three major contenders at that point in the race — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. And Tortorello made clear that while individuals age differently, neuroscience has pretty well established that past one's 60s, the effects of aging on cognitive health grow markedly more pronounced.
Tortorello also cited Mark Fisher, a University of California professor of neurology and political science, who says, "we should probably assume that a significant proportion of political leaders over the age of 65 have impairment of executive function.” Fisher did go on to note that, of the major presidential contenders, "it is very likely many of these candidates are functioning fine in the area of executive function."
Trump attempted to soothe the public's concerns over his medical health by having his personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, release a letter asserting Trump's good health. That document raised eyebrows over its remarkable brevity (one page) and rhetorical uniqueness. Abandoning usual "doctor speak," Bornstein seemed to adopt Trump's style of expression, writing that, if he won, Trump "will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."
Bornstein later walked back some of his language, saying in August, "I don't think he's [Trump] in any better or worse than the average person that goes and exercises every single day. Doesn't smoke, doesn't drink — and that's simply the best advantage you can have to live — and he's got a good family history."
Questions about Trump's mental fitness have also come from a range of medical professionals who have attempted diagnosis from a distance. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychologist at Yale School of Medicine, published a book in October alongside 26 other mental health colleagues, entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.
Lee raises the concerns she and her colleagues hold, writing, "Simply put, Trump has already exceeded our usual threshold for evaluation. Just some of the signs that have raised red flags include: verbal aggressiveness, boasting about sexual assaults, inciting violence in others, an attraction to violence and powerful weapons and the taunting of hostile nations with nuclear power."
Others disagree with Lee and her approach. Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman of Columbia University is against publicly diagnosing anyone. "I don't believe that it is acceptable for psychiatrists or physicians to publicly proclaim diagnoses," Lieberman wrote for MedScape. "Doing so violates a key principle of psychiatry and our professional ethics, and moreover, risks harming the reputation of our discipline."
Medical experts and the public at large will both get a closer glimpse into the president's health in January, when the White House releases his Walter Reed medical examination.