WASHINGTON — President Reagan took a shot today at Michael S. Dukakis for refusing to release his medical records amid rumors of mental depression, saying "Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid." He later said he was "just trying to be funny" but "I don't think I should have said what I said."
In Boston, Dukakis said, "We all occasionally misspeak," and no apology was really needed. "I'm a very healthy guy," he added.
Reagan caused an uproar at an impromptu White House news conference to announce his veto of the defense bill when he was asked if the Democratic presidential candidate should release his medical records.
The question came a day after the Washington Times published a report alluding to "rumors" that Dukakis has undergone treatment for depression. The Dukakis campaign denied the rumors, which originated with handbills by a Lyndon LaRouche group circulated to reporters .
"I'm not going to pick on an invalid," Reagan said as he was leaving the briefing room.
The presidential crack drew exclamations of surprise from those assembled in the room.
'I Was Kidding'
He refused to elaborate on what he meant. But a few minutes later at a separate appearance, Reagan, without prompting, told reporters, "A short time ago, I attempted a joke. I was kidding. . . . I was just trying to be funny and it didn't work."
Reagan said that he believes the American people are entitled to know about a candidate's medical history.
Neither Dukakis nor Vice President George Bush has released full medical records during the 1988 campaign, although Bush said today he will do so and he did respond to a list of questions from the Detroit News.
Bush, Dukakis' presidential rival, said he wanted to talk to Reagan before commenting on his remark. He added, "I'm not going to be drawn into this mini-controversy."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, at a news conference in Detroit after addressing the National Urban League, called it "unfortunate and ugly language beneath the dignity of an American President."
Jackson said, "Obviously, in that sense, it's both insensitive to people who are physically or emotionally invalid, and an insult to Gov. Dukakis who is not an invalid, physically or emotionally."
Dukakis' running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, called Reagan's remark "outrageous and laughable at the same time."
Campaign aides have repeatedly denied persistent rumors that Dukakis received psychiatric treatment on perhaps two occasions--the 1973 death of his brother, Stelian, the victim of a hit-run accident, and following his 1978 primary election defeat in his bid for a second gubernatorial term.
A number of news organizations, including the Boston Globe, have reported their inability to substantiate the rumors, many of which were circulated on the LaRouche handbills slipped to reporters at the Democratic National Convention.
In the 1972 presidential race, former Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) was forced to bow out as Sen. George S. McGovern's running mate after it was disclosed he underwent shock treatment. Since then, presidential and vice presidential candidates have commonly released their medical records.