Biden rejects the problem of age, promises medical disclosures

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

Eric Gay / The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is shrugging off subtly veiled criticisms from younger rivals who are too old for the Oval Office.

The former 76-year-old vice president told reporters Friday that he will demonstrate his fitness through the campaign, even jokingly making one of the interrogations: "Do you want to fight?" And he pledged to publish his medical records "when I have my next physicist" before the Iowa caucuses began the voting process in February.

"There is no reason for me not to release my medical records," Biden said.

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The age has been an undercurrent of the Democratic primaries for months, with Mr. Biden, 78-year-old Bernie Sanders and 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren leading the crowded camp vying to face 73-year-old President Donald Trump.

The problem opened on Thursday when 44-year-old Julian Castro used the third primary democratic debate to suggest during a discussion on health that Mr. Biden was confused about his proposals.

"Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" Mr. Castro asked, mistakenly accusing Mr. Biden of misunderstanding the way people would provide health insurance coverage under his proposal for a "public option" plan similar to Medicare to compete together under private insurance .

Cory Booker, who is 50, added after the debate in a CNN interview that "there are many people who are worried about Joe Biden's ability to get the ball over the bottom line without tinkering".

Both Mr. Castro and Mr. Booker are far behind the highest level and are looking for ways to get a vision of together in a campaign dominated by the seven-year-olds.

Mr. Biden said Friday, as he has already done, that his age is a legitimate issue that his opponents can use and that voters must consider. But Thursday's debate marked a new turn with Mr Booker and Mr. Castro raising the question directly.

If Mr. Biden was elected, he would be 78 years old on the opening day, older on his first day as president than Ronald Reagan when he left office in January 1989. Bernie Sanders, who would be 79, would be also the oldest president of Our History. And Mrs. Warren, who would be 71 years old, would have been the oldest first term president just inaugurated, eclipsing Mr. Trump, who was 70 when he took office.

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But Mr. Biden faced the most persistent whispers about his age, particularly when making mistakes during the election campaign – a circumstance that his note aides was a well-known part of his decades-long political career. Towards the end of Thursday's debate, Biden offered a dizzying response to a question on structural racism, at one point saying that parents could help teach their children language skills using a "turntable".

Mr. Booker said: "I don't remember the last time I saw a record player … But there are certainly moments when you listen to Joe Biden and you simply wonder."

Mr. Booker told CNN he was not saying that Mr. Biden is too old to be president, only that he wants a candidate who can excite the whole spectrum of democratic voters.

Mr. Castro insisted after the debate that he was not alluding to Mr. Biden's age when he repeatedly asked Mr. Biden if he was forgetting the details of his health care proposal. The Texas Southern University audience seemed to come to a different conclusion, reacting with tremors, groans and scoffs to Mr. Castro's questions.

On Friday, Mr. Biden's aides called it a "low blow".

The candidate himself avoided that characterization and did not mention the name of Castro or Mr. Booker.

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"We actually had an open debate on health care and I felt very good about the health care debate," he said. "What I saw last night is less and less personal attacks … So I'm increasingly feeling comfortable with the way the debates are moving."

On a previous fundraising Friday, Mr. Biden seemed to assume a slightly more aggressive posture, subtly noting his continued post at the top of a diminishing camp. "I know I am being criticized," he told several dozen donors, before adding with a smile, "even though they are less and less criticizing me."

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