Aging political class in US leads to fierce debates

Aging political class in US leads to fierce debates

Issue of aging US politicians made headlines again over Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, and 90-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein

By Tugcenur Akgun

As the 2024 presidential and congressional elections draw nearer, the median age of American politicians is being hotly debated in the US.

The issue of aging politicians made headlines again after the leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, who fell several times this year, stared ahead blankly without saying anything for about 20 seconds at a press conference, along with 90-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein's missing sessions of Congress for a while due to illness, in addition to the way she had to be given prompts for a vote in a committee meeting.

- Biden and Trump

US President Joe Biden, who is the oldest commander-in-chief in the nation’s history, is currently 80 years old – the oldest occupant of the Oval Office to date. Biden is also seeking reelection next year, and if he wins will take office at the age of 82 and is set to be 86 when his term ends.

Biden's top Republican rival, former President Donald Trump, turned 77 in June. This means that if elected, he will become president for the second time at the age of 78, and his term will end at age 82.

Considering the fact that the median age of the US population is around 38, it is important for the elections in the US, as elsewhere, that the leaders address the concerns and needs of the younger generations.

Yet the views of American voters on the age of their older leaders can shift over time. For example, while polls about Biden's age last year showed that voters were worried, the situation seems to have recently changed somewhat in Biden's favor, perhaps as fears of continued high inflation and a possible economic recession have receded.

- As Senate has aged, House has gotten a bit younger

According to January data from the Pew Research Center, 67 out of 100 members of the current US Senate are 60 or over, with an average age of around 65. The oldest Senators are California Democrat Feinstein, 90, and Charles E. Grassley, 89, followed by 81-year-old independent Bernie Sanders and McConnell, also 81.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, has a relatively young profile. The 435-seat House has 189 members over age 60, with an average age of 57 years.

While the median age in the US Senate has risen compared to before the last congressional elections, it fell by a year in the House of Representatives.

- 5 generations together in Congress

Five generations serve together in the US Congress, members of the Silent Generation (born in 1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Generation Y, also known as Millennials (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012).

The youngest member of Congress is Maxwell Frost in the House of Representatives, born in 1997, and the youngest senator, Jon Ossoff, is 36 years old.

Nevertheless, the post-World War II Baby Boomer generation, which makes up about 21% of the US population, currently makes up almost half of Congress.

- Imposing age limit up for debate

Debates continue about the problems brought by the rising age of US politicians. Nikki Haley, a former US ambassador to the UN who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, argued that "mandatory mental proficiency tests should be introduced for politicians over the age of 75."

Trump, who appointed her to the ambassador post but is now her rival, has said that all presidential candidates should take a mental proficiency test.

Amid concerns about Biden’s age, the White House has cited medical reports saying that he is "fit to fulfill his presidential duties."

But some others, citing how some other young members had to be absent from Congress due to health woes, argue that this focus on the older members of Congress amounts to ageism.

Some fiercely oppose the use of age as fodder for political attacks. According to them, what really matters is not age but political experience and the ability to carry out one’s duties.

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