ATLANTA — President Joe Biden on Friday morning stumbled several times as he climbed the stairs to Air Force One to board a flight to Atlanta, where he and Vice President Kamala Harris planned to meet with Asian American leaders in the wake of a mass shooting.
Biden climbed about a dozen stairs before briefly losing his footing. He appeared to regain his balance and took a few more steps on the red-carpeted staircase, then stumbled again.
The president had more difficulty recovering the second time, stabilizing himself with his hand on a railing at first and starting to rise. He initially appeared unsteady, but then supported himself and continued up the stairs without apparent difficulty, saluting at the top.
The White House said the incident was not serious.
“I can tell you he’s doing fine,” said deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who briefed reporters aboard Air Force One. “It’s pretty windy outside, it’s very windy. I almost fell coming up the steps myself. He is doing 100 percent fine.”
Biden, who at 78 is the oldest president in history, has not released medical records since December 2019. He frequently cited his physical fitness on the campaign trail to guard against concerns expressed by some voters that his age could be a liability.
Campaigning in Iowa during the Democratic primary, Biden at one point challenged an 81-year-old farmer to a push-up contest after the man questioned whether a candidate in his late 70s could effectively handle the pressures of the presidency.
After then-President Donald Trump walked haltingly while walking down a ramp at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Biden’s campaign made a point of comparing the two leaders’ physical fitness.
A two-minute ad that Biden released the week of the Republican National Convention showed footage of Biden walking quickly up a staircase and Trump’s unsteady gait down the ramp.
“Some people are always in a hurry. They run when they could walk,” a narrator said as images flashed by of Biden walking briskly and riding a bike. “Race up steps when others take it slow,” the narrator continued, with an image of Trump walking down the ramp appearing on the word “slow.”
Biden himself also drew the comparison.
“Look at how he steps, and look how I step,” Biden told an ABC affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa., in September, when asked about the issue. “Watch how I run up ramps and he stumbles down ramps. OK? C’mon.”
Republicans Friday were quick to seize on Biden’s stumble.
“I remember the press bashing Trump for touching the rail once,” the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., said on social media. “Biden falls repeatedly but I’m sure he’s the picture of health. No wonder all our enemies are pouncing simultaneously and mocking him publicly.”
In November, after winning the election, Biden sprained his right foot. He said at the time that the injury had occurred while he was playing with his dog Major at his home in Delaware.
While not releasing his medical records, Biden has provided the results of his periodic coronavirus tests, all of them negative. Biden was vaccinated against the virus in December.
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The Washington Post’s Matt Viser contributed to this report.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/biden-stumbles-loses-footing-climbing-steps-to-air-force-one/2021/03/19/e5f3e679-f127-4080-8c86-73c6dba33e1a_video.html (The Washington Post)