"I pray for the president all of the time," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) declared in December, two weeks before she and her Democratic colleagues voted to impeach him. Pelosi reiterated her concern for Donald Trump's welfare after she made a show of tearing up his State of the Union address in February. "I pray very hard for him," she said, "because he's so off the track."
Last night Pelosi showed that Trump is still in her prayers, especially since he revealed that he takes the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventative. "He's our president," she said on CNN, "and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group: morbidly obese, they say."
To be clear: The speaker of the House is not calling the president an old fart and a big fat load. She just wants us to know that she worries for him, because his age and his weight place him at elevated risk during the pandemic.
It is true that Trump is 73. It is also true that the danger of dying from COVID-19 rises dramatically with age, although that correlation may have more to do with health than age per se, since the elderly are especially likely to have serious preexisting medical conditions, which are strongly and independently associated with vulnerability to COVID-19.
And yes, obesity is one of those preexisting conditions. A study of more than 4,000 people with COVID-19 who were treated at NYU Langone Medical Center found that obesity was more than twice as common among patients who needed to be hospitalized. "The chronic condition with the strongest association with critical illness was obesity, with a substantially higher odds ratio than any cardiovascular or pulmonary disease," the researchers reported. They added that "obesity is well-recognized to be a pro-inflammatory condition." Another NYU Langone study of COVID-19 patients found that the odds of being admitted and of requiring ICU care rose with body mass index, although only for patients younger than 60.
But is Trump "morbidly obese," as Pelosi claimed? According to the White House physician, no. "In his February 2019 annual physical, Trump, who is 6'3″, tipped the scales at 243 pounds," CNN's Chris Cillizza notes. "That gave him a BMI of 30.4—just over the edge of obesity but far from the technical definition of 'severe' or 'extreme' (or 'morbid') obesity. For Trump to be considered 'morbidly obese,' he would need to weigh 320 pounds—or more."
William Howard Taft, for instance, would have qualified as morbidly obese. But Pelosi was not around to make fun of him.
Pelosi's claim about Trump's weight class is not only false but seemingly irrelevant. First, the NYU Langone research suggests obesity is not a predictor of COVID-19 severity for people of Trump's age. Second, Pelosi ostensibly was talking not about the risk posed by COVID-19 but about the risk posed by hydroxychloroquine.
Maybe Pelosi was thinking that the false assurance provided by the unproven preventative might lead Trump to engage in risky behavior he would otherwise avoid—say, wading into a sea of COVID-19 patients without appropriate protective gear. Or maybe she was just using faux concern as a cover for a childish slur.
"I don't respond to her," Trump said today when asked about Pelosi's comment. "I think she's a waste of time."
Trump himself, of course, has never been shy about hurling personal insults—especially against women, whom he has publicly called "slobs," "dogs," "fat pigs," and "horseface," among other things. At least his nickname for Pelosi—"Crazy Nancy"—has to do with something other than her physical appearance. Yet Pelosi seems determined to surrender whatever moral high ground she might once have claimed in this territory.