Geriatric leaders in DC prove it’s time for an age limit
“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd’s recent observation on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” was correct: The Democratic Party has an advanced age problem.
“The Democratic Party right now, its entire leadership structure, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin … both over the age of 70,” Todd said last week, referring to the Senate majority leader (D-N.Y.) and majority whip (D-Ill.), respectively. “All three leaders in the House, 70 or 80. The president of the United States. [Vice President] Kamala Harris is the youngest basically of the elected leadership and nobody else. She’s the only one under 70.”
This perspective isn’t just Todd’s. It appears to be shared by former President Obama.
“I see in the U.S. Congress people who’ve been there 20, 30, 40 years,” Obama said five years ago, not long after leaving the Oval Office. “And because they’re still there, they’re blocking the 25- or 30- or 35-year-old who is more of their time and could be more innovative and creative [in] solving the problems we face today, rather than the problems we faced 35 years ago.”
The current leaders of the Democratic Party (in theory, at least) are President Biden, who will be 80 in a few months, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who turned 82 in March. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are in their 80s, as are House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). Schumer, the aforementioned Senate leader, is 71.
The age issue isn’t just relegated to the left side of the aisle: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80; Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is 88; Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are both 87.
Overall, the median age of members of Congress is 60. For context, the median age of U.S. citizens is 39, per the Census.
The age-limit issue for elected federal officials came back into the conversation this week after a California lawmaker spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle, on the condition that the source not be identified, in order to share what was described as a “jarring” experience with Sen. Feinstein in which she allegedly repeated conversations during a policy meeting.
“I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn’t resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone,” the lawmaker said of the 88-year-old. “She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.” Three other senators were quoted in the article sharing similar concerns.
This isn’t the first time Feinstein’s behavior has been flagged. In 2020, the New Yorker reported that Feinstein had been “seriously struggling” with her memory. Also in 2020, Feinstein questioned then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about stopping disinformation on social media — and, after Dorsey answered, Feinstein asked him the same exact question as a follow-up.
The advanced age of our lawmakers is apparent to the public. A recent YouGov poll shows that 58 percent of Americans want an age limit of 70 for elected officials. So, let’s say that somehow became the law today. What percentage of senators would be eliminated from serving? Try 71 percent. Gone.
Such a law would also preclude Joe Biden from running again in 2024, which most people, including many Democrats, would likely prefer. A February ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 54 percent of registered voters believe that the president doesn’t have the “mental sharpness” for the job, while a Wall Street Journal poll finds that just 41 percentof Democrats think Biden will seek a second term. On the Republican side, an age limit on serving in government would also preclude Donald Trump from seeking a second term; on Election Day in 2024, Trump will be 78.
“It’s a tricky thing,” Chuck Todd would say later in his panel discussion about lawmakers’ ages. “If you start again, if you start questioning Dianne Feinstein, the president of the United States is going to start getting this stuff, and that’s something the party doesn’t want to have to deal with, those questions here.”
The Biden administration has enough problems at the moment. A Quinnipiac poll last week had the president at just 33 percent approval, with a higher drop in support among young voters.
Overall, just 39 percent of Generation Z (those born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s) approve of Biden’s job performance, marking a 21-point drop from January 2021.
If we can have a minimum age to be president or to serve in Congress, there’s no reason why we can’t have a maximum age to serve as well.
But, given the geriatrics in charge at the top and almost everywhere in between, don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.