Political News

Bernie Sanders takes a page from Donald Trump on health questions

Posted February 19, 2020 9:12 a.m. EST
Updated February 19, 2020 9:40 a.m. EST

— Sen. Bernie Sanders is a 78-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while campaigning for president last fall. Which is why his insistence to CNN's Anderson Cooper at a town hall Tuesday night that he will not release any more detailed health records is very concerning.

Here's Sanders' answer:

"We have released — I think, Anderson, quite as much as any other candidate has. We released two rather detailed letters from cardiologists and released a letter that came from the head of the US Congress medical group, the physicians there. So I think we have released a detailed report. And I'm comfortable with what we have done."

Pressed on whether he would release any other health data, Sanders responded: "I don't think we will, no."

Which is a bad answer! But the Sanders camp wasn't done stepping in it.

On CNN's "New Day," Sanders' national spokeswoman Briahna Joy Gray went even further -- suggesting that questions about Sanders' health were a "smear campaign," and adding: "It's really telling none of the same concern is being demonstrated for Bloomberg, who's suffered a heart attack in the past."

Er, what?

According to a letter released by Bloomberg's doctor in late 2019, he had surgery in 2000 in which a coronary stent was inserted to deal with a blocked artery. And in 2018, he developed an irregular heartbeat. The letter also noted that Bloomberg takes blood thinners, beta-blockers and cholesterol medication. But if Bloomberg had a heart attack -- as Sanders' campaign suggested on national TV Wednesday morning -- it's never been publicly revealed before. (Note: Bloomberg is 78; his birthday is on Valentine's Day.) Of that claim, Kevin Sheekey of the Bloomberg campaign told CNN Wednesday: "It is a lie. Bernie Sanders is the Trump of the left. I honestly can't tell the difference in their campaigns."

So in less than 24 hours, we have Sanders saying he doesn't think he needs to release anything more than he has to date about his health and heart, and a national spokeswoman for his campaign suggesting this is all a "smear campaign" and that another candidate in the race has had an undisclosed heart attack.

So, a few things here:

1) It is not a "smear campaign" to ask a few more health questions than are usual about a man who would be the oldest person ever elected to a first term as president and who had a heart attack just a few months ago.

2) You don't get to suggest another candidate for president had a heart attack unless you, uh, know that he had a heart attack.

3) This is how front-runners are scrutinized. If you want to be the Democratic presidential nominee against Donald Trump this fall, you'd better be ready to answer some hard questions. And candidly, this isn't even that hard of a question!

This resistance to releasing more medical records is, unfortunately, not a new thing for the Vermont senator. Check out this exchange between Sanders and NBC's Chuck Todd earlier this month:

Todd: The first votes have already been cast, you did not release your medical records. You released a few letters. Nobody interviewed your doctors. You did have a heart attack, apparently. Shouldn't voters see your medical records --

Sanders: We have released as much --

Todd: -- before Super Tuesday?

Sanders: -- documentation, I think, as any other candidate.

Todd: But no other candidate has had a heart attack.

Sanders: Well, look, I am -- yeah, no other candidate's doing four or five events a day, running all over this country --

Todd: I hear you. No, you have proven --

Sanders: We are --

Todd: -- I mean, no doubt, you've proven your mettle here. But voters, you heard voters have been concerned about your age.

Sanders: I mean, you can start releasing medical records and it never ends. We have released a substantive part -- all of our background. We have doctors who have -- cardiologists who are confirming that I am in good health. I am in good health.

"It never ends?" Hmmmm. What Sanders is saying here is that the public has what it's going to get on his health -- and they are just going to have to take his word for it beyond that.

But, wait, you say! How can you criticize Sanders when the guy sitting in the White House used a letter that his personal doctor later said was dictated to him by the candidate as the only proof that he was healthy enough to be president?

This way: If you are comfortable with using Trump as the standard for how transparent a candidate should be when running for the most powerful (and stressful!) job in the country, then you're no better than Trump. If his standard is the standard, then all of the talk about how important it is to do better -- and show the American people that better is possible -- is just bunk.

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