The position of White House physician is not normally one in the spotlight. We don’t live in normal times, though, so the replacement of Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician during the Trump administration with President Biden’s choice is news. Biden is bringing in his personal physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor.
O’Connor is no stranger to working in the White House. He was Biden’s physician throughout the Obama administration and continued to count Joe Biden as a patient after Biden left the White House. Dr. O’Connor recently treated Biden when he fractured his ankle chasing his dog. The reason this is a story today is that the personnel change is being used to dunk on Trump. Because, of course.
It is unusual that an incoming president brings in a new doctor. Most White House physicians serve more than one presidential administration, as a matter of fact. But during the Trump administration, Dr. Ronny Jackson, who joined the White House Medical Unit in the mid-2000s under George W. Bush, and served as Physician to the President from 2013 to 2018 under Barack Obama and Donald Trump, became a lightning rod for partisan attacks. Trump nominated Jackson to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs to succeed David Shulkin. The long knives came out for a man who was highly respected by White House employees in three administrations because of this nomination, led by Democrat Senator Jon Tester. Suddenly Dr. Jackson became Dr. Feel-Good, a man inclined to over-generously hand out pills. It was a disgraceful partisan attack on Jackson. Jackson is now a member of the House, representing his home district in Texas.
Jackson was replaced as the physician to the president by Dr. Sean Conley. Like Jackson, Conley is a Navy officer and physician. He came under controversy for his less than stellar communication skills with reporters during President Trump’s treatment for COVID-19. White House physicians typically present the best possible reports on the medical health of the presidents they serve. Their reports are meant to present the state of a president’s health while not creating alarm over their findings. It’s their professional bedside manner with the press corps and the public. Unfortunately, Dr. Conley went a little overboard in trying to reassure the public that President Trump was recovering at a quick clip and all was well. He did recover and was able to get back to a full-time schedule in a fairly short amount of time, especially for a man his age, but it turns out that Trump was sicker than initially, his medical team let on.
So, would Conley be replaced if he had not served under President Trump? For that matter, would Jackson, if he was still in the position, have been replaced? He served during Biden’s previous years in the White House, though as Obama’s doc and not his. Would President Biden have kept on the current White House physician, as is tradition, if the name Trump wasn’t involved? Biden has a history with Dr. O’Connor and it may just be a case of having someone familiar treating him at the White House. Team Biden is working overtime to purge Trump appointees and it is easy to think of this as a hostile move, whether it is or not. Biden is surrounding himself with lots of Obama retreads and even some from the Clinton years so clearly he has no desire to expand his inner circle to include those with which he is less familiar. Conley admitted he was overly optimistic of Trump’s treatment during his battle with COVID-19, though he excused it as following Trump’s upbeat attitude.
Biden is old and he has pre-existing medical conditions for which he is being treated. While Trump was robust and active, often like the Energizer Bunny when he was in full campaign mode, Biden normally appears frail and feeble. No one thinks the guy is in great health. I’ll point out that O’Connor might have overdone it with an upbeat report released during the campaign when he described Biden as “vigorous”. C’mon, man. Biden was calling lids at 9:00 a.m. regularly before his inauguration.
O’Connor played a role in Biden’s campaign as well, increasingly so after Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after the first presidential debate in September. He also helped with the care of Biden’s fractured foot, which he sustained while playing with his dog over the Thanksgiving holiday.
O’Connor also conducted and released the only physical & medical report for Biden during his campaign in December 2019: a three-page summary that declared Biden “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
At the time of the report, Biden was under treatment for four different conditions, including non-valvular atrial fibrillation (A-fib)–a type of irregular heart rhythm, hyperlipidemia– higher concentrations of fats or lipids in the blood, gastroesophageal reflux, and seasonal allergies.
The most notable health incident in Biden’s past, according to O’Connor’s report, were the two cranial aneurysms that he suffered in 1988. No additional report on Biden’s health was released during the campaign.
Press reports are using the spin that it is normal for an incoming president to bring in someone new. It isn’t, at least not in recent administrations. And, look for blurbs about how honest and trustworthy Dr. O’Connor is, one last slap at those who served Trump.
A source close to the president said Biden would never ask O’Connor to lie for him, and O’Connor would never offer. The two wouldn’t want to disappoint each other, the source added.
How’s that return to civility and unity coming?