Biden turns 80 as election talk swirls
Questions about Joe Biden’s age have loomed over his presidency ever since he entered the White House.
On Sunday, Biden will reach a major milestone when he is expected to spend his 80th birthday quietly with his family, many of whom will be at the White House to mark another occasion: His granddaughter Naomi’s wedding.
Biden allies say they know the day will be used by his rivals, who want to cast the president as lacking the energy and mental acuity needed for the job.
The question is increasingly relevant, critics say, as Biden considers reelection, though the president’s supports say the age-based attacks are markedly unfair.
“I’m sure Republicans will use the day to remind everyone that he’s some out-of-it octogenarian, which couldn’t be farther from the truth,” one Biden ally said.
Michael Eric Dyson, the renowned scholar who met with Biden last year as part of a small group of historians, said this of the GOP criticism: “Joe Biden has proven time and again that it’s, as he would call it, malarky.”
“When we see LeBron James and Tom Brady performing 20 years into their careers, that’s the indication that 80 may be the new 60, and I’m all for it,” Dyson said.
“The reason he can fall off his bicycle is because he was on it in the first damn place,” he added.
During a news conference last week, when he was asked about whether he had it in him to run for reelection, Biden replied “Watch me.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday that the Biden family typically celebrates the president’s birthday on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, however, the family will celebrate it on Biden’s real birthday, since his family already will be together in Washington.
“The first lady is going to be having a brunch on Sunday for the president, to celebrate the president’s birthday … with his family,” Jean-Pierre said.
Both the birthday brunch and wedding will be closed to the media, so any images or information from either event will come from the White House after the fact.
Biden had a very busy lead-up to the big family weekend.
He saw Democrats glide to a stronger-than-expected finish to the midterm elections, as the party held the Senate and kept the GOP to a slim majority in the House.
The Senate victory in particular is important to Biden, as it ensures Democrats will have control of the chamber for his nominees. They hope to add a 51st vote in Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) if he can win a runoff election next month.
There is also change coming for the party with the departure of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who announced on Thursday that she will not seek another term as a Democratic leader, even though she will remain in Congress. It means Biden is likely to work with a younger generation of party leaders in the House.
Biden also just returned from a foreign trip that included stops for the Group of 20 meetings in Indonesia, as well as stops in Cambodia and Egypt.
Some say Biden should celebrate the birthday and a successful November.
“On the heels of holding the Senate, a White House wedding and success at the G-20, no particular media strategy matters for the Big 8-0,” said Bruce Mehlman, a former assistant secretary at the Commerce Department under former President George W. Bush.
“For crying out loud, the President’s age is no secret. Go ahead and celebrate!” said former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), a Biden ally. “Does being 80 make a person unable to govern? I don’t know, let’s ask Chuck Grassley.”
The remark is a nod by the Democrat to other aging politicians who continue to exert power.
While Biden takes flack for his age from the GOP, former President Trump is only four years younger and has announced a bid for reelection. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), mentioned by Carney, is 89.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said former President Reagan also dealt with criticism about his age during his reelection campaign against his rival, Democrat Walter Mondale.
But Reagan, who was 69 years old when he was sworn into his first term, “used it to his advantage, didn’t hide from it but embraced it.”
During one of the presidential debates with Mondale, Reagan said “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
While Zelizer said Biden has tried to handle it by “ignoring frenzies over gaffes, focusing on governing and output and sticking it to his political opponents … there might be room for a Reagan moment” to use the question of age to his advantage.
“But overall, his age is what it is,” Zelizer said. “He can’t change that. So the best strategy is not to double down and define himself through that.”
When Biden met with the group of historians at the White House last year, he “engaged in extensive questioning, reflection and curiosity,” for nearly three hours, Dyson said.
“His energy, his insight, his capacity and his mental acuity were all unquestioned,” he said.
Biden said he will formally announce if he plans to run for another term in the new year, after months of insisting that he intends to run. He has characterized it as a family decision, largely between one he’ll make with his spouse.
Allies though say that if he is up for the job, even at 80, he will do it.
“I have every confidence that if President Biden deemed his age is an impediment to serving, he would not seek reelection,” said Carney.