President Biden walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One for a trip to Nevada on March 19. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post file

President Biden, who is 81 and the oldest person ever to hold the office, has displayed signs of accelerated aging in recent months, said numerous aides, foreign officials, members of Congress, donors, and others who have interacted with Biden over the last 3½ years. They noted that he moves more slowly, speaks more softly, and has moments when he loses his train of thought more often than even just a year ago.

None of those who spoke to The Washington Post said they had seen Biden appear as lost and confused as he did at the presidential debate against Donald Trump on June 27, where his halting performance sent panic through the Democratic Party. They largely did not question his mental acuity, and several senior White House aides who interact with Biden regularly said that he continues to ask probing, detailed questions about complicated policy matters and can recall facts from previous briefings in minute detail.

Nevertheless, Biden has slowed considerably over the last several months, according to 21 people, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic and share candid assessments.

They said Biden’s physical signs of aging have become more apparent – the stiff gait, the need at times for assistance in moving from place to place, a raspy, softened speaking voice that can make the lifelong politician known for impassioned and at times seemingly unending speeches now difficult to hear and understand. In addition to these traits, he has exhibited occasional lapses in which he has appeared to briefly freeze up or suddenly veer off topic, instances some said they easily dismissed before the debate but have now caused them to question his ability to do the job for another four years.

During the Group of Seven nations summit in Italy last month, several European leaders came away stunned at how much older the president seemed from when they had last interacted with him only a year, or in some cases, mere months earlier, several officials familiar with their reactions said. “People were worried about it,” said one person familiar with leaders’ reactions.

At an immigration event at the White House less than two weeks before the debate, some participants worried about the president’s frailty and how his energy ebbed and waned, wondering how he could debate Trump. One person who attended termed Biden’s performance “terrifying.” Others said they thought the president seemed physically diminished but otherwise fine. At an internal meeting at the White House this spring, an official recalled struggling to hear Biden speak even though he sat just a few feet away and noticed that the president answered some questions with puzzling non-sequiturs.


“There’s been a decline over the last year. He was much more vigorous in 2023,” one former administration official said. “His age is progressing, and I’m pretty sure that’s normal. … The question is how long can he do this job for, and I don’t know the answer to that.”

First lady Jill Biden helps President Biden off the stage following the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections on June 27. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post file

Biden has said he had a cold on the night of the debate. There is no indication he is more seriously ill, and a White House doctor declared him “fit for duty” after an examination in February 2024.

The White House has cited Biden’s long record of legislative successes and his management of complex foreign policy matters in numerous countries as evidence of his ability to serve another four years.

“As he has proved by earning the strongest record of any modern president, Joe Biden is unflinchingly capable and fighting for American families, with sharpness and resolve, every moment of every day – whether it’s managing rapidly-evolving national security events in the Situation Room or working with members of Congress late to pass the biggest climate investments in history,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

Several White House aides who work with the president regularly and accompany him on foreign trips said while he may move slower and look older, they do not see signs that he is mentally diminished and say his physical aging has no bearing on his ability to continue the president’s job. Many Democrats and White House aides who interact with Biden regularly said they were stunned by his debate performance because he appeared sharper and more energetic in private meetings.

However, during the Group of Seven Nations summit in Italy last month, several European leaders were struck by Biden’s appearance and demeanor, according to four people who spoke directly with multiple leaders. The general impression among leaders, the people said, was that while Biden appeared capable of carrying out his duties today, they were concerned about how he could serve another four-year term.


The leaders noted that Biden seemed more tired, frail and less lucid at certain moments. Several said he was hard to hear, prompting meeting participants to ask him to speak up sometimes, according to a summit participant. The president also sometimes lost his train of thought, though he would return to the point quickly, three of the people said.

Biden’s appearance at the G-7 and his debate performance have further heightened anxiety among European leaders about a possible second Trump term. European capitals have long been preparing for another Trump presidency, but Biden’s halting debate performance has sharply focused those efforts and made the stakes “more real,” one person familiar with the conversations said.

“The impression was, we don’t see him being able to run the country for four more years. How are you running this guy for four more years? How are you going to win this election?” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, who was familiar with several leaders’ reactions. “It’s very, very rare in a democracy that the person you run for an election is someone that you all know can’t lead the country for four more years.”

One person familiar with the conversations among leaders said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni observed that Biden was “mentally on top of his game” but physically weak, which worried her. The person said those concerns became more pronounced after the debate. A spokesman for the Italian Embassy did not provide a comment.

“What has changed the discourse here in Europe is not the G-7. It’s the debate,” the person said. “Leaders were dismayed by Biden’s performance – they told themselves they should have realized at the G-7 … and came to the conclusion that he cannot win in November.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was with Biden at the G-7, and Amos Hochstein, a senior national security official also on the trip, said all the leaders at the G-7 looked to Biden for leadership on complex matters, including Israel’s war in Gaza, the war in Ukraine, and China. Blinken said Biden held at least a half-dozen working sessions with other leaders, and Biden often came back to offer additional thoughts on various matters.


“What I saw and experienced at the G-7 is a president who was plunged into the work,” said Blinken, who, like several others, was made available by the White House to vouch for Biden’s fitness. “The question – and it’s a fair one – is ‘Does he have command of the job and is he getting results?’ And the answer to that is yes.”

President Biden’s hand rests on the lectern during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan in April in the Rose Garden. Craig Hudson for The Washington Post

However, others who have interacted with Biden in recent months said they have been struck by changes in his demeanor.

One White House official said he noticed Biden had aged significantly over the past year during a meeting this spring when he found it difficult to hear and understand the president. In another meeting, a senior aide told Biden the order in which to call on people for an upcoming event. The official recalled that Biden was alert and engaged but jotted the names down slowly. “That took longer than one would expect,” the official said. “It wasn’t that his mind was trailing off. He was slowing down.”

While campaigning in 2020, Biden said he viewed himself as a “bridge” to the next generation of Democratic leaders. But after a string of legislative victories and a better-than-expected showing by Democrats in the 2022 midterms, Biden announced his intent to seek a second term.

Trump, who is 78 and prone to non-sequiturs of his own, has also faced questions about his acuity, particularly as he has rambled incoherently at several recent public events. Still, polls show voters are more concerned about Biden’s age than Trump’s. In a post-debate CBS News-YouGov poll, 72 percent of voters said they did not believe Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president, compared with 49 percent who said the same about Trump.

Biden’s age has been a frequent target of Republican attacks. They frequently take videos from public events, often missing critical context, making Biden appear confused and inept. White House aides have fiercely pushed back on any suggestion that Biden is too old to do the job, saying he aggressively asks questions in briefings and speech preps. They also point to his continued ability to work a rope line and talk about complicated policy matters on the fly.


Emmy Ruiz, the White House political director, recalled a meeting with Latino leaders this spring that Biden held on policy issues including housing, immigration, and the border. She said Biden walked in with one card of notes, initially intending to drop by and say hello, but instead held a 45-minute unscripted policy meeting.

“He’s constantly pushing us,” Ruiz said in an interview. During speech preparation, she said, Biden often asks what people are expecting to hear from him and requests to speak with local politicians to better understand their constituents.

After a group of senators returned from the Middle East after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, they went to the White House one evening to brief the president for a meeting they expected to last 30 minutes, said Jonathan Kott, an adviser to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a key ally of the president.

“They had a detailed conversation about foreign policy for over two hours and thought he was sharp, alert and in command,” Kott said.

Neera Tanden, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said she attended a recent meeting where she briefed Biden on the minutia of the administration’s health-care policy, a plan to lower the cost of inhalers, and talked through how the Medicaid rebate program works. She said Biden asked detailed questions about the policy and its real-world impact.

“My experience with the president is that he is demanding facts and policy and wants to deliver for the American people, so he asks tough questions,” Tanden said.


Mark Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family who spent a day with Biden at the White House in March, said he “doesn’t move around like an athletic 55- or 60-year-old.”

“But he had a lot of energy. He was telling jokes and showing off the White House and was completely fine,” Shriver said.

President Biden makes his way to the Oval Office in May. Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post

Those who do not interact with Biden regularly, such as Democratic donors and foreign leaders, often notice the change most acutely. Senior aides who interact with Biden regularly said they have not noticed stark changes.

And some of Biden’s lapses have taken place in public.

While addressing a crowd on the White House lawn during a commemoration of Juneteenth last month, Biden briefly became unintelligible as he slurred his words before regaining his footing and completing his speech. At a White House meeting on reproductive health in January, Biden directed the crowd’s attention to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who the president said was “sitting” in the room – but it was actually Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The two Cabinet secretaries do not look alike; Mayorkas is bald, while Becerra has a full head of hair and wears glasses.

During an impromptu news conference in February, Biden referred to Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, the president of Egypt, as the president of Mexico. Biden had called the conference to try to allay concerns about his age and memory after special counsel Robert K. Hur determined that he should not be prosecuted for careless handling of classified documents, in part because a jury might conclude that he was a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”


Biden had a childhood stutter that aides say sometimes resurfaces. Experts say lifelong speaking challenges are separate from lapses of memory.

Since the debate, Democrats have expressed frustration that Biden has been slow to forcefully come out and show voters he is up to the job. He held a rally in Raleigh, N.C., the day after the debate, reading scripted remarks from a teleprompter, where he was energetic and impassioned, briefly allaying some concerns. However, many Democrats and White House allies were befuddled as to why Biden and his team had not quickly scheduled a television interview demonstrating that Biden could handle unscripted settings and added more events to his schedule this week.

Biden is now set to record an interview with ABC News on Friday and has a series of campaign events in Wisconsin on Friday and Philadelphia over the weekend. Next week, the president is expected to hold a solo news conference during the NATO summit, which will be hosted in Washington. Biden and his senior team have said they understand that the president must demonstrate his fitness for office to salvage his candidacy.

Much of the anger inside the White House and on Capitol Hill has been directed at Biden’s closest aides, who have largely kept the president away from spontaneous and unscripted events. This has sparked suspicion among those who interact with him less often that his condition may be worse than aides have acknowledged.

Bates, the White House spokesman, noted that Biden has conducted interviews with major networks and speaks in more informal settings with reporters, such as when he was boarding Marine One at the White House.

Biden has traveled the country over the last couple of months campaigning, but most of his events are carefully choreographed, with the president reading from a teleprompter – even for intimate fundraisers or brief remarks. He does few media interviews, and even when the president holds news conferences, they are often with foreign leaders and limited to a few questions. (White House aides counter that the president holds plenty of unscripted interactions in photo lines and in impromptu meetings and drop-bys and that teleprompters are standard for presidential events.)


Donors have complained that Biden’s team has barred them from asking questions even at small group events, unusual at high-dollar political fundraisers.

Biden’s aides also adjusted his schedule to avoid overtaxing him. During a private meeting with Democratic governors at the White House on Wednesday evening, Biden said that he needed to get more sleep and had instructed staff to avoid scheduling events for him after 8 p.m., a person familiar with his comments said.

Two former and one current White House official said most high-priority meetings and key events are scheduled midday when aides believe Biden is at his best. They also said that White House schedulers keep meetings with the president as small as possible, particularly compared with prior administrations – a sharp departure from Biden’s earlier White House stint as vice president, when the garrulous politician loved to be at the center of large gatherings. Biden also sometimes wears tennis shoes and uses a shorter series of steps to Air Force One to reduce the chances he might trip.

One veteran leader who has met Biden several times over the years said they were surprised by how much older Biden appeared when they saw him on May 27 for a Memorial Day breakfast in the East Room of the White House. The breakfast was attended by a few hundred grieving military family members, veterans service organizations, and administration officials.

While there were no “red flags” in Biden’s brief remarks at the event, the veteran leader said the president had “noticeably aged a lot” since the previous Memorial Day weekend. He noted his gait and physical demeanor as he also greeted guests and took photographs.

Nine days before the debate, four people present at the White House said they worried about the president’s fitness after observing him at a celebratory gathering to announce a new policy to help immigrants.


The president seemed off under the sparkling chandeliers in the East Room on June 18. He appeared frail as he navigated to the stage before the packed crowd of more than 100 people. He sometimes mumbled. In one jarring moment, he appeared to freeze while introducing Mayorkas and then waved it off as a joke. A White House aide said the difficulty with Mayorkas’s name at that moment stemmed from Biden’s stutter.

People gather to watch the presidential debate at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Ga. Kendrick Brinson for The Washington Post file

Aides reportedly said it was Biden being Biden.

But others at the event said lawmakers and other attendees whispered concerns about Biden’s fitness over iced tea at the White House afterward, as a mariachi band played.

“Everyone talked about it with each other,” said a former Biden administration official who attended the event. “We were all like, ‘That was horrible. We’re going to lose the election.’”

An advocate in the room recalled saying to others after the event, “He’s not going to make it four more years,” adding, “He’s walking like an old man.”

“I was in shock,” the person said. “It was like I was seeing something nobody else was seeing. … It was so obvious to me.”


Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also attended the event and left with a different impression. She said Biden seemed sharp, empathetic, and capable of leading at the June 18 event.

Barragan said Biden has sometimes asked for her hand to help him descend from a stage at previous events, but she had confidence in his ability to be president.

“Joe may not walk the same. He might be stiffer,” she said. “I don’t think that goes to his inability to be president of the United States.”

However, the former Biden official was struck by the moments when the president seemed less like himself and worried about what it would mean about his ability to take on Trump.

The former officials left the event thinking, “I don’t know how that man’s going to debate next week.”

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