Week In Politics: Presidential Candidates Release Health Records NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the revival of the birther movement, the tightening presidential race, and the hype surrounding the release of candidates' health records.
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Week In Politics: Presidential Candidates Release Health Records

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Week In Politics: Presidential Candidates Release Health Records

Week In Politics: Presidential Candidates Release Health Records

Week In Politics: Presidential Candidates Release Health Records

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/494283638/494283639" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the revival of the birther movement, the tightening presidential race, and the hype surrounding the release of candidates' health records.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today, Donald Trump finally admitted something that he, for a long time, refused to acknowledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: President Barack Obama was born in the United States - period.

MCEVERS: Trump has questioned the president's place of birth for years. The White House even produced President Obama's U.S. birth certificate a few years back to try to end the rumors. So why the sudden shift? With us to talk about this and other political news are our weekly commentators, E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

MCEVERS: So, David, why would Trump bring this up again today?

BROOKS: I guess he thinks it's going to win him votes among the people he's offended 8 million ways before. I'm not sure it's going to work out. This statement that his campaign put out - he's often, in the past year or so, been on different planets from reality - but he was in a different universe.

The idea that Hillary Clinton started this whole thing and that he is the brave truth-teller exposing the actuality of it is so far from what actually happened, if you go back and look at Donald Trump's tweets on this subject, it's mind-boggling. And yet it - I think it's a campaign of extreme cynicism that we don't really have to try to even come close to a believable story. We say what we want, and it doesn't seem to hurt us.

MCEVERS: And Trump built up this press conference by saying, you know, he was going to make a major announcement on Twitter. And then, afterward, CNN's John King said something you don't often hear from the media. He said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KING: We got played again by the Trump campaign, which is what they do. They - he got a live event, broadcast for about 20-something minutes.

MCEVERS: And, you know, here we are talking about it. E J, what do you think, are we being played? What's going on here?

DIONNE: Oh, I think Trump has played the media all year long, right from the beginning of his campaign. But in this case, I think this play will come right back against himself. As David suggested, thanks to his rich history of tweeting, we know what he said about this in the past.

And I think bringing this up now and the way his campaign handled it - they'd kind of been talking about it for days - he will eventually say this, Trump is saying I will only say it when I'm ready - only calls attention to something that has made him deeply offensive, particularly to - particularly to African-Americans, but also to all kinds of fair-minded Americans who looked at the facts and said, what in the world was this guy doing claiming that Barack Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii? And then lying about Hillary Clinton's past, sure, maybe some Clinton person somewhere back there said something, but Hillary Clinton has never been a birther, and so he replaced one lie with another.

MCEVERS: There are a lot of new polls out this week - lots of - lots of numbers. But the prevailing narrative from these numbers is that this race is getting tighter. E J, is this about Trump getting stronger or about Clinton getting weaker?

DIONNE: I think almost every change that we've seen since the conventions has not been because one side had enormous positives, although I think Clinton did gain something herself from her convention. It's mostly 'cause the other side makes mistakes or things perceived to be mistakes. And the basket-of-deplorables comment that Clinton made, which can be defended on the facts when you look at what Trump supporters actually believe, but it's never a good idea for a candidate to characterize the other side's supporters.

And then her getting sick in the context of the Trump people spreading all these rumors sort of left her in a difficult place. And I'm still struck by the fact that, even after weeks like this, Trump closes the gap, but he can't close it all the way and that his - he's still not all that strong among white voters, whom he must win by overwhelming margins.

MCEVERS: We see Trump moving ahead in battleground states like Ohio and Florida. And while we did hear some good news this week from the Census Bureau about how the economy is recovering and wages are going up, it's not necessarily so in some of these battleground states. Is that a factor, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I don't think so. If the - if short-term economic changes were - and the economy's improving - you'd think Clinton would be improving, not sliding. So it doesn't - it's not a neat correlation. I do think that we have to appreciate the desire for change as just super-strong in this country.

And Hillary Clinton, for all her virtues, does not seem like a transformational candidate, and Donald Trump does. And so as long as he can have a moderately terrible week, he seems to do well. And so just being - getting a D-minus seems to be good enough for him to - people get a little more accustomed that, oh, at least this guy will bring some change.

And I do think, for those of us who are not in love with the idea of a Trump presidency, it's not quite time to panic, but it's getting there.

DIONNE: One thing I'd say is a lot of Democrats - and this underscores something David said. A lot of Democrats say, why in the world isn't Hillary Clinton ahead of this guy by 20 points? And I think the answer is, A, she's trying to follow an incumbent of eight years, and she's in the same party.

And while Obama's popular, voters don't often do that. And two, while the recent economic news was spectacular, particularly for people at the bottom of the economy, a lot of voters are still thinking long-term decline going all the way back to 1999. So there is some wind in her - in her face in this election. And that's why she doesn't - hasn't been able to build up an enormous lead.

MCEVERS: Both candidates, of course, spent a lot of time talking about their health this week, this after Hillary Clinton's collapse at a 9/11 memorial service and the later information that she'd been diagnosed with pneumonia but hadn't announced that. Clinton, of course, later released her medical records, and her doctor said everything was fine. Soon she was out campaigning in North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I have to say, it's great to be back on the campaign trail.

MCEVERS: And then Donald Trump went on "The Dr. Oz Show" and did what seemed like a scripted reveal of his medical records. Let's hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DR. OZ SHOW")

MEHMET OZ: If your health is as strong as it seems from your review of systems, why not share your medical records? Why not let people...

TRUMP: Well, I have really no problem in doing it. I have it right here. I mean, I - should I do it? I don't care.

(APPLAUSE)

MCEVERS: And one thing that struck me as we were going through all these health records this week - cholesterol levels, weight, blood-thinning medicine - I couldn't help but think, are we really doing this, going into this much detail given that presidents used to have major diseases that we didn't even know about, you know? I mean, have things swung so far the other way that we have to have this micro-transparency, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I start with the premise that if these two candidates have been campaigning pretty hard for about a year and a half, running around the country, giving all these speeches, raising all this money, they're probably in amazing health, especially given their age.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

BROOKS: If - if they - if we're going to have some health reveal, to me - and if this is possible - it would be about Alzheimer's. If they have a heart attack or get sick in some real way, we'll deal with it. But Alzheimer's is a real thing, and it can affect you subtly. And that - if we can have some indication about that, that seems to be the most likely - the most important thing that we should know.

MCEVERS: I also wonder if there is a double standard when it comes to transparency. I was listening to our Politics podcast, and NPR's Asma Khalid was talking about how, when Republicans are asked about this, they want Clinton to be more transparent. And then Democrats, of course, want Trump to be more transparent. What's going on here, E J?

DIONNE: Well, I think Clinton, after this week, has to flip the transparency script. She's the one who's put out over 30 years of tax returns. He hasn't put out anything and shows no signs of ever doing so. She has actually put out more detail on her health than he has.

And so I think she's got to start arguing and asking the media to look at the fact that she, relatively speaking, has been quite forthcoming. And it's true that we ask more of presidential candidates on these matters than we used to. I think that's a reaction to how much candidates used to withhold in the past. And, although, I don't get really excited reading LDL numbers, myself.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) That's E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks, both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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