Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician-turned-GOP congressional candidate, suggested on Tuesday that Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMcConnell challenger dodges court packing question ‘Hamilton’ cast to reunite for Biden fundraiser Trump relishes return to large rallies following COVID-19 diagnosis MORE is mentally unfit for office, citing what he called cognitive decline.
The remarks from Jackson, who has not evaluated Biden, came during a phone call organized by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwo ethics groups call on House to begin impeachment inquiry against Barr Trump relishes return to large rallies following COVID-19 diagnosis McGrath: McConnell ‘can’t get it done’ on COVID-19 relief MORE’s campaign and are part of a sustained effort by Trump’s allies to highlight Biden’s gaffes on the campaign trail, arguing they make him mentally incapable of serving as commander in chief.
Jackson said Tuesday that he was speaking as a “concerned citizen” and not as a Republican congressional candidate.
“As a citizen of this country, I watch Joe Biden on the campaign trail and I am concerned that he does not — am convinced that he does not have the mental capacity, the cognitive ability to serve as our commander in chief and head of state,” Jackson told reporters on the call.
“I really think that he needs some type of cognitive testing before he takes over the reigns as our commander in chief, if that is in the cards,” Jackson added.
Jackson later acknowledged, in response to a question from a reporter, that he has never treated or evaluated Biden and said he was not making a medical assessment of Biden’s mental health.
“I am not making a medical assessment. I actually don’t even practice medicine at this point. I am not doing that,” Jackson said. “I am not trying to remotely diagnose him with anything. I have not accused him of having Alzheimer’s or anything of that nature. I have not made that statement.”
Jackson mentioned a handful of instances from Monday when Biden, who was campaigning in Ohio, could not remember the name of Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Barrett hearings take center stage | Trump returns to campaign trail Biden: Faith shouldn’t be a subject in Barrett confirmation fight Nebraska district could prove pivotal for Biden in November MORE (R-Utah) and mistakenly said he was running for the Senate, not the White House.
In a response to Jackson’s comment, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, “I refer you to the first debate.”
Trump and his campaign have been targeting Biden’s mental fitness for months, during which time Biden has built a sizable lead in national polling and an advantage in key battleground states. Trump, meanwhile, has little time to turn his campaign around as Republicans grow concerned about potentially losing the White House and Senate.
Trump’s performance in the first debate against Biden was widely panned by Republicans as a missed opportunity that put scrutiny back on the president instead of Biden. Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, said the attack on Biden’s gaffes would have been more effective if Trump had executed it during the debate.
“If this is going to be a central part of your theme for your campaign, then you have to attack this tactically. There is no better opportunity for that than the first debate,” Heye told The Hill. “Doing that on a conference call is not going to move the needle.”
On Monday evening, Trump, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus one week prior, mentioned the same comments from Biden as did Jackson, arguing that his Democratic opponent would not be able to cut it in negotiations with foreign leaders from China, Russia and North Korea.
“They’re 100 percent sharp. We have somebody running that’s not 100 percent, he’s not 80 percent, he’s not 60 percent,” Trump told a crowd of supporters in Sanford, Fla., Monday evening.
Jackson served as the White House physician until 2018, after he was forced to withdraw as Trump’s choice to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs following allegations of improper conduct while leading the White House medical unit. A retired Navy rear admiral with no prior political experience, Jackson launched a bid as a Republican to represent Texas’s 13th Congressional District, and won the GOP nomination earlier this year.