Interview With Ann Devroy of USA Today on the President's Health

March 29, 1984

Ms. Devroy. -- -- actually, that is the first question. How are you?

The President. Just fine.

Ms. Devroy. How is the general state of your health?

You know this is -- I'm doing a story that relates to that -- --

The President. That's what I understand, yes. Have you talked to Dan [Dr. Daniel Ruge, Physician to the President] yet?

Ms. Devroy. Yes.

The President. I understand you were going to. Well, I don't know what he told you -- [laughing] -- --

Ms. Devroy. I'll tell you after you tell me. [Laughter]

The President. No, I can tell you I feel -- I've never felt better.

Ms. Devroy. Do you have any problems left relating to the shooting? Any physical problems?

The President. No. No, as a matter of fact, I'm amazed at how hard I have to look now to see the extensive scarring.

Ms. Devroy. You don't want to do a Lyndon Johnson and show them to us, do you? [Laughter]

The President. No. No, you can catch me, oh, come summer, in a swimming suit.

Ms. Devroy. How -- --

The President. See how old-fashioned I am? I still call trunks a swimming suit. [Laughter]

Ms. Devroy. How often do you see Dr. Ruge?

The President. Oh, well, I have to see him pretty frequently. Every couple of weeks or so, I stop in to get my sneeze shots. I still have my little hay fever allergy, and I've discovered that Sacramento and Washington have something in common. They must be the allergy capitals of the world.

Ms. Devroy. You get -- [inaudible] -- every couple of weeks?

The President. Yes.

Ms. Devroy. Someone said that you also have allergies to feathers and stuffing in some of the chairs. Is that -- --

The President. Yes. As a matter of fact, here I've been wondering if some of my problem isn't indoors as much as out. Because I can go up to [Camp] David or a few days at the ranch or anything and -- well, you can hear my voice now -- and it's just fine. I can come back here and within 24 hours -- --

Ms. Devroy. Start getting hoarse?

The President. -- -- I have, kind of have that little allergic stuffiness.

Ms. Devroy. I want to clear something up. The Times reported on your birthday that you haven't had a physical in 2 years. Is that the case? The last -- basically, the last one was April when you went out to the hospital by helicopter?

The President. I guess so, yes. Although there have been oh, interim things, like because of trips and so forth, they do a blood test on me, something of that kind.

Ms. Devroy. Why is that? It's the first time -- according to the -- [inaudible] -- the first time in like 20 years you haven't had an annual physical.

The President. Well, Dan doesn't happen to be a believer in those. After that length of time, he doesn't think they're that essential. Now, this year we will. He's told me that we'll do some testing when we clear the schedule here a little bit.

Ms. Devroy. Well, when you were considering whether to run again, weren't you curious as to how -- that you were in top shape, that your health was in good shape to go another 5 years?

The President. Yes, but now that we've dwelled on those allergies for so long, let's get around to the good part of it. There's just no question, I honestly believe -- I work out daily in that gym upstairs at the end of the day. I'm still, at every opportunity, when the weather permits, riding, as I always have. And -- --

Ms. Devroy. Well, out here, the weather never seems -- --

The President. What?

Ms. Devroy. Well, out here the weather never seems to permit -- --

The President. Yes, this has been the longest stretch, I think, of not being able to. But no, I honestly am in excellent shape. And, as I say, I think in -- --

Ms. Devroy. You didn't have -- --

The President. -- -- better shape -- --

Ms. Devroy. -- -- any curiosity about going through a full physical just to make absolute sure?

The President. No, because I felt so good. Part of my workout is I get on a treadmill and climb uphill on that treadmill -- they have a set climb -- and that's part of the workout. I do that every day. And I know how I feel.

Ms. Devroy. When you were campaigning in 1980, when some of your advisers thought that age might be an issue -- it didn't turn out to be -- you pledged to take regular physical and mental tests and release them to the public while you were in office.

The President. [Laughter]

Ms. Devroy. Now, whatever happened to those? I haven't seen one.

The President. Well, no, I said if ever -- --

Ms. Devroy. By the way, Larry [Larry M. Speakes, Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President] says press conferences -- [inaudible] -- --

The President. Yes.

Ms. Devroy. [Inaudible] -- subject. But -- [laughter] -- --

The President. Yes. No, what I actually said that time -- because everyone was asking, you know, my mental faculties were not going to be able to survive, and I said if I ever had any indication that I was drifting into something of that kind, I certainly would -- --

Ms. Devroy. Oh, it was conditioned on if you found yourself having memory problems or something, that you'd -- --

The President. Yes.

Ms. Devroy. Oh, it wasn't an actual -- --

The President. No, and nothing like that has happened.

Ms. Devroy. When you take this, the physical you're going to take this year, will you release that publicly?

The President. Will I what?

Ms. Devroy. Make that public?

The President. Oh, I'm sure. Dan has always -- no, I was just gesturing.

Ms. Devroy. Oh. [Laughter]

The President. Occasionally, if I look out the windows, it's to see if the squirrels are still eating the acorns. I brought down a great big bag of acorns from Camp David, and I put them out there in the -- [inaudible].

Ms. Devroy. I remember reading about that.

The President. No, Dave -- or, I mean Dan, does that and answers any queries. And there's never been any reason not to answer them.

Ms. Devroy. Well, when I spoke to him, he said that most of that information really isn't the public's business. It's between you and he as your doctor. And, as you know, we haven't seen a report like that. And I'm wondering, this being an election year and people perhaps wanting to be reassured, if you would make that public.

The President. Well, I'll venture to say that when the campaign gets underway, it will be the same as it's been all the way back to those years when I was traveling a mashed-potato circuit for the GE Theatre; and that is that I'll be still going when the rest are in a state of collapse. [Laughter]

I remember back in those years -- on that theatre -- that I'd go into a town, visit the plant, and then all the schedule that they'd have for me. And usually my leaving would be, as they said goodbye, they'd say, ``We're glad you're getting out of town.'' [Laughter]

Ms. Devroy. I'm not implying anything other than the fact that we haven't seen an actual report like that, and some of the Democratic candidates are starting to release reports from their physicians. Do you think your age will become an issue? It didn't in '80.

The President. I can't believe that it will. If it does, I'll challenge him to an arm wrestle.

Ms. Devroy. One eminent psychologist recommended recently at the American Psychiatric Institute that a government -- I know you're not going to like this -- that a government panel be set up to examine all candidates for the President to report to the public on their health. Would you accept that?

The President. [Laughing] Well, certainly I would accept it if that was what they wanted, and everyone felt that's what should be done. But I just wonder if we haven't gone so far anymore in the restrictions that are being placed on people in government, in the suspicions that motivate so many things that are being done, not only to elected officials but to appointees in government, that pretty soon we're going to find that the best people won't seek government as a way to -- service to their country.

I think that's as I've said. And if we run any checks or anything, I'll make sure that Dan knows it's all right with me to answer the questions.

But to get back to the health factor, at a time when an awful lot of people I know are worried because their belt size is changing, my worry is that I'm growing out of my coats because I've added an inch and a quarter around my chest.

Ms. Devroy. Are you still -- --

The President. Yes.

Ms. Devroy. Are you still doing that?

The President. Sure.

Ms. Devroy. I mean, is that -- --

The President. Every day. Well, 6 days a week. You take 1 day off.

Ms. Devroy. Do you -- --

The President. Two different sets of exercise -- one 3 days, and the other one 3 days.

Ms. Devroy. Do you take any medicines?

The President. I take vitamins. Nancy's father was a surgeon, as you know, and got us in that habit a long time ago. And I don't know what effect it's had, but it must have done something right. And that was -- he said that he always -- he was not a great believer in a lot of vitamins or anything, but he said -- and he prescribed a certain multiple vitamin -- he said we're all of us so careless about our food. You know, lunch time is when you grab a sandwich or something, a cup of coffee and a roll, that sort of thing. And he said that he'd always believed that this one multivitamin every day would make up for any deficiencies in your diet.

And we both got in the habit of doing it. And, I suppose, if you have to call that a medicine, well, that's a medicine.

Ms. Devroy. Let me turn to one pretty serious subject. Have you considered or discussed what would happen here if you became impaired in your second term somehow?

The President. If I become -- --

Ms. Devroy. Impaired somehow? You know, constitutionally, if you were impaired, there's a procedure. Have you discussed that?

The President. No. I assume -- --

Ms. Devroy. The thought never occurred to you that -- --

The President. No. [Laughing]

Ms. Devroy. Well, I'll try -- how about -- everything I've read or know about you indicates that you are very optimistic. Do you ever go through periods when you're bothered by stress or -- of the job -- or depression about something that's happening?

The President. No. I think I do some reasonable worry about whether a decision that I have to make -- the hardest decisions are the ones when there's so much right on both sides. They're not clean-cut this way or that way.

But, no. And I think maybe this comes from the previous experience of having been a Governor of the largest State in the Union -- not in acreage, in population. I remember when I first started that job, yes, I discovered what stress was.

Ms. Devroy. Did it keep you awake or did you pace? I mean, how did it affect you?

The President. Well, it was just a tension that I had. We'd inherited a situation somewhat similar to what we inherited here -- in California. And it seemed as if every day that I sat down at my desk, there was someone in front of the desk saying, ``We've got a problem.'' And I found myself almost with a physical desire to look over my shoulder to see if there wasn't someone I could turn to and tell that to. And I just -- --

Ms. Devroy. That never -- it never caused any real physical problem? I mean, it was just something you coped with and got used to?

The President. And I just said to myself one day, ``Look, all I can do is make a decision based on what, to the best of my ability, is my belief in what is right for the people.'' I had already told the Cabinet and others, as I have here, that I don't want anyone suggesting things on the basis of the political context; that the decisions will be made on what's right or wrong for our people. And I haven't had that since.

Ms. Devroy. Well, what about anger? You have to have, in the past -- this morning, I got up and saw the Meese stuff all over TV. It was all over TV last night. That sort of thing has to affect you in terms of anger. You must have to cope with that. How do you cope with that?

The President. Oh, sometimes I get mad. My fellows tell me -- I wasn't even conscious of it -- they tell me that once in a while, they watch. When I throw my glasses -- [laughter] -- they know I'm angry.

But, yes, I think that's something that is very frustrating. Look, I'm the guy they're after with their demagoguery. Well, all right, then, come after me. But quit picking on people who haven't done anything wrong and who actually have made a sacrifice in order to serve in government -- and try to destroy human beings the way they are.

Now, why didn't someone -- in that splash last night about those cufflinks -- why didn't somebody bother to find out that there are at least nine people, including people at the State Department, who received those gifts from the Korean Government when we were there, but all were assured that the terms under which such gifts could be given and accepted had been met by the Korean Government? In other words, there is a financial limit below which it is proper. All of them had been told that these gifts came underneath that limit. Now, somebody -- --

Ms. Devroy. Larry was one with the -- --

The President. -- -- somebody went out and got a local estimate. Well, do you go by what an estimate is at our kind of inflated prices, or do you go by what they cost the Government over there?

Ms. Devroy. But what do you do when you see that, and you say to yourself, ``This is really unfair''?

The President. Yes, I say that, and maybe I say some unprintable language for a minute or 2. But I also learned that you can eat yourself up with anger, and I'd rather eat them up. [Laughter]

Mr. Speakes. Mr. President, you're running late here. You've got the black college presidents.

The President. But we're having so much fun. [Laughter]

Mr. Speakes. Have you got one more?

Ms. Devroy. Well, I'll tell him one quick anecdote.

I was researching this story, and I talked to this doctor -- when you had said you'd take these mental tests and put out the results. I was speaking to a doctor who's a specialist in that area and asked him if there's a simple test that you can give a President to assess that. And he said, ``Sure, it's just three or four questions long. But it won't work in this case.'' And I said, ``Why not?'' And he said, ``The first question is, `Who's the President of the United States?''' [Laughter] So, that took care of that idea. [Laughter]

The President. Well, let me just -- --

Ms. Devroy. Thank you very much.

The President. On your way out, let me just show you something.

Ms. Devroy. Do you want to arm wrestle?

The President. No. [Laughter] Kathy [Kathleen Osborne, Personal Secretary to the President] brought in today -- --

Ms. Devroy. Someone told me it was incredible.

The President. There. Now, does that look like I need to take a physical? And these are all very recent. These are from the last time out there.

Ms. Devroy. Is this the latest issue of National Geographic?

The President. I guess so, yes.

Ms. Devroy. Thanks.

The President. So, my only illness is, after looking at this, homesickness.

Ms. Devroy. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Well, thank you.

Note: The interview began at 2 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

The transcript of the interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 30.