On Friday, Donald Trump, 71, will undertake his first physical exam as president — a standard protocol for presidents, but one that's generating more buzz than usual this time around. That's because it's Trump the outlier, someone who's had everything from his body language to his diet scrutinized. There's no official rule saying presidents have to release their medical records, and it's ultimately up to the president — not their physician — to decide how much information they want to give to the public.
That said: It has become customary for the White House to disclose the results of the physical exam, usually in the form of a doctor's report. The White House published online former President Barack Obama's medical report a few weeks after his fourth physical exam, for instance. Before that a group of physicians signed off, based on former President George W. Bush's physical exam, on Bush being fit for duty for the duration of his term.
Unlike Bush and Obama, however, Trump is going into his medical checkup facing a public flurry of concern over his mental capacity and physical health, stemming from reports of his slurred speech, fourth grade-level speaking, and reportedly sedentary lifestyle coupled with a junk food diet. The White House has made it very clear that the physical exam will not include a psychiatric evaluation.
Trump has already agreed to release the results and, in a video from CSPAN, comments, "I think [the physical exam is] going to go very well. I'll be very surprised if it doesn't … It better go well otherwise the stock market will not be happy."
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson is prepared to discuss the results and answer questions about Trump's physical exam at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Huckabee also dismissed some of Trump's supposed health concerns as "frankly, pretty ridiculous." She attributed Trump's speech problems to a dry throat.
If it happens, this would be the first time Trump will release medical records. (Although it's not like he's never bucked routine before — Trump still hasn't released his tax records as every other past president has.) How much medical information the Trump administration will choose to reveal could depend on his results, especially if it has the potential to reveal something unflattering about the president. Trump is already on the defense about his fitness to serve as president, and there's no guidelines about how transparent the president has to be in revealing his health.
Dr. Lawrence C. Mohr told the Los Angeles Times that although “the American people are entitled to know the health status of their president and presidential candidates ... the release of any medical information has to be the decision of the candidate and not the doctor.”
Mohr served as the White House physician during the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. Should the president disclose information, it should be accurate, complete, timely, and include whatever medicating is being prescribed, he added.
Americans seem split on the public versus private debate. In a 2016 Gallup poll, 51 percent of Americans say a president should release all medical information that might affect his or her ability to serve. Nearly half, 46 percent, say a president should have the same right as every other citizen to keep medical records private.
A health problem wouldn't automatically make Trump unfit to serve. A wheelchair-confined Franklin Roosevelt took office while he had polio. Dwight Eisenhower survived a heart attack during his first term and Lyndon Johnson had gall bladder surgery while he was president.
“Just because a president has an illness doesn’t mean that’s a disqualifying factor if that illness can be effectively treated,” Mohr told the Los Angeles Times. What's more important is whether the president can think clearly, act appropriately, and communicate effectively, he said.