- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Washington’s leaders are old, and voters are beginning to notice.

President Biden’s apparent cognitive decline, happening right before the nation’s eyes as he shuffles along, struggles to read teleprompters and regularly makes gaffes or utters incoherent sentences, has drawn scrutiny to Washington’s cadre of aging lawmakers.

A poll found that 64% of registered Democratic voters don’t want Mr. Biden to run for office again, and a significant number say he’s too old.

“A third of them volunteered it was because of Biden’s age,” Steve Greenberg of the Siena College Research Institute, which conducted the poll, told The Washington Times. “That was a fill-in-the-blank. That was not a choice.”

A whopping 60% of Democrats 65 and older and a third of all those 30 to 64 cited age as the reason Mr. Biden should not run again. Among voters 29 and younger, 14% cited the president’s age.

At 79, Mr. Biden, the oldest person ever elected to the White House, is hardly the most elderly political leader in the nation’s capital. 

SEE ALSO: Biden defends meet with Saudis, says his views on Khashoggi killing ‘positively clear’

In fact, he is younger than many leading members of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is 82. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is 80. The Senate president pro tempore, Patrick J. Leahy, is 82. The Vermont Democrat is third in line for the presidency.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a key negotiator on all major spending deals, is 88.

Overall, a third of U.S. senators and 20% of House members are older than 70.

Some are planning to retire. Mr. Leahy, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has been absent from the Senate after breaking his hip last month.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, 87, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is also retiring. 

SEE ALSO: Israel honors Biden with the Presidential Medal of Honor

Democrats are assuming Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, won’t seek reelection after public concerns about a cognitive decline. The California Democrat hasn’t announced her plans. With Mr. Leahy leaving, she would succeed him to become third in line for the presidency if the party retains the Senate majority after the November elections.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, is running for an eighth Senate term at age 88. If he wins, Mr. Grassley will be 95 at the end of his ninth term.

Iowa voters are not particularly concerned about his age, Republican strategist and Grassley biographer Eric Woolson said in an interview. 

“I think they are comfortable with his stamina,” said Mr. Woolson, a former Grassley spokesman.

Mr. Grassley visits all 99 Iowa counties every year and is known for his 4 a.m. jogs six days a week.

“I think he’s done quite a bit, especially in the last eight to 10 years, to mitigate the age issue, and he’s certainly as sharp as he has ever been throughout his career. So I think he may be the exception to the rule in terms of voters,” Mr. Woolson said.

Mr. Grassley’s Democratic opponent is Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral who is 64. 

A poll conducted last week for the Franken campaign found Mr. Grassley leading by only 5 percentage points. His advantage shrank to a single point when voters in the poll were presented with each candidate’s biographical statements, including information about Mr. Grassley’s entry into elected politics in 1959, two years after Mr. Franken was born.

In the House, younger Democratic lawmakers have been increasingly impatient about moving into leadership positions held for decades by a team of now-octogenarians.

“The internal dynamics of the House has made it such that there is very little option for succession,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, 32, a member of the “Squad” of newcomer liberal Democrats, told The Intercept in 2020. 

Mrs. Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 83, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, 81, have no official plans to step aside in the next Congress

“We have to be very, very careful,” Mr. Clyburn, who has been a member of the Democratic leadership team since 2003, told The Washington Post this year. “There has to be a healthy balance of strength and experience.”

Mrs. Pelosi, who is serving her fourth term as speaker, pledged privately to her caucus four years ago that she would not run for Democratic leader again after this year. 

Still, she announced in January that she would seek a 19th term representing her San Francisco district in Congress, renewing questions about her leadership plans. 

Asked whether she would run for speaker in January if Democrats maintain the House majority, Mrs. Pelosi would not commit to stepping aside.

“That’s not a question,” Mrs. Pelosi told ABC News in February. “My purpose right now is just to win that election. Nothing less is at stake than our democracy.”

A Morning Consult/Politico poll taken shortly after Mrs. Pelosi’s reelection announcement found less than half of Democratic voters wanted her to remain the leader of the party in the House

If Mrs. Pelosi and her top deputies move aside, lawmakers decades younger are waiting in the wings for leadership positions.

The list includes Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, 51, now the Democratic Caucus chair, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, 56, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Pete Aguilar of California, 43, Democratic Caucus vice chair, and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, 59.

The Senate and House have long histories of lawmakers growing old in office.

Sen. Strom Thurmond remained on the job until he was 100, but he declined physically and cognitively in his final years.

Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, struggled in his old age to run the Senate Appropriations Committee before resigning in 2018 at age 80 after four decades in Congress

Other lawmakers stay in office until they die.

This year, Reps. Don Young, Alaska Republican, died at 88. Florida’s Alcee Hastings, Florida Democrat, died of cancer last year at 84 after an extended absence from the House

Dr. Michael T. Ullman, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of Georgetown University Medical Center’s Brain and Language Lab, said older politicians can have advantages.

“Some aspects of cognition decline with age, some remain stable and some improve,” Dr. Ullman said. “So it’s not all downhill.”

Dr. Ullman said older people tend to be more knowledgeable and have more self-control and better self-regulation, though the speed of processing information and some ability to recall information decline. 

“I think someone who’s younger, who might be impulsive and make wrong decisions, that’s probably a lot more dangerous than someone who’s a little bit slower and making good decisions,” Dr. Ullman said. 

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide