Press Briefing Gets Heated Over Neurologist Visiting White House

Monday’s White House briefing devolved into an angry back-and-forth between reporters and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre after visitor logs reviewed by The New York Times found that renowned medical expert specializing in movement disorders and the treatment of Parkinson’s disease visited the White House eight times in the last eight months.

Dr. Kevin Cannard, a neurologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, made the visits to the White House between July of last year and this March. More recent visitor logs are not yet available to the public. The Times found that on Jan. 17, Canard met with White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor, and Walter Reed cardiologist Dr. John Atwood.

Jean-Pierre was bombarded by questions about Cannard’s visits, and if he had visited the White House to treat the president or another patient.

“Has the president been treated for Parkinson’s? No. Is he being treated for Parkinson’s? No.” Jean-Piere declared to the press corps.

The assertion came after a long, heated exchange between the press secretary and reporters seeking clarification on Cannard’s trips to the White House.

CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe accused Jean-Pierre of allowing the issue of Biden’s health to “fester” with indirect answers.

“There’s no reason to go back and forth in this aggressive way,” Jean-Pierre said. “Every time, I answer the questions you guys ask.”

O’Keefe countered: “You answer incorrectly and we have to come back and clean it up!”

The reasons for the visits were not specified in the Times report, but earlier this month President Joe Biden signed the “Dr. Emmanuel Bilirakis and Honorable Jennifer Wexton National Plan to End Parkinson’s Act.” The law authorizes the creation of a Parkinson’s advisory committee, and “requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop and evaluate progress on a government-wide plan to address Parkinson’s and related diseases.”

Jean-Pierre did not raise the legislation in her response to reporters’ questions. Instead, she pointed to the president’s most recent physical, in which Dr. O’Connor wrote that “an extremely detailed neurologic exam was again reassuring in that there were no findings which would be consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or ascending lateral sclerosis.”

“Every time he’s had a physical, he has had to see a neurologist,” Jean-Pierre said. “For security reasons, we cannot share names,” she added when pressed for clarification about Cannard’s involvement with the White House.

“It doesn’t matter how hard you push me. It doesn’t matter how angry you get with me. I’m not going to confirm a name,” Jean-Pierre told reporters as tensions rose within the briefing room. “What I can share with you is that the president has seen a neurologist for his physical three times.”

According to his online biography, Cannard served as “Neurology Consultant to the White House Medical Unit and the Physician to the President” between 2012-2022. The White House declined to comment to the Times on the reason for his visits, but said that “a wide variety of specialists from the Walter Reed system visit the White House complex to treat the thousands of military personnel who work on the grounds.”

The visits have raised alarm bells amid concerns about the president’s declining cognitive health following a disastrous debate against former President Donald Trump in June. Since the debate, Biden has repeatedly ducked questions about whether he would submit to a comprehensive cognitive evaluation, and release the results to the public. Biden has instead referred repeatedly to his annual physical, which includes a neurological assessment.

Biden himself has pushed back on theories that his blunders during the debate were caused by a degenerative neurological disorder. During a Friday interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden blamed his lack of performance on exhaustion. “It was a bad episode. No indication of any serious condition. I was exhausted. I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing and– and a bad night,” he said.

The president added that he gets “a full neurological test every day,” through the demands of his job, and pointed to his annual physical as evidence of his health. Biden added that there was no reason to undergo a separate, independent cognitive evaluation.

In a Monday morning interview with MSNBC, Biden was asked directly by Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski if he’d been tested “for any age-related illnesses, pre-Parkinson’s or anything like that, that might explain sort of having a night like that where you couldn’t finish sentences?”

Biden laughed at the question, replying that he had been feeling ill for the debate and had been tested for Covid-19. “If there was something that was wrong that night, it’s not like it comes and that’s one night and it goes away,” he added.

But while Biden would like to write off the debate as a bad night in an otherwise strong campaign, the answers provided to the public in the days that followed have done little to reassure anxious voters about the health of their president.

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