As the viral satirical campaign slogan goes: “Anyone under 80 2024.”
Many of America’s current top political figures, on both sides of the aisle, are 75 or older. At times, this has come with associated health and cognitive scares.
- President Joe Biden, 80, is the oldest president in history. He’s started using the lower set of stairs on Air Force One, to avoid possible slips on the main stairs.
- Former President Donald Trump, 77, ended his term as the third-oldest president in history, behind only Biden and Ronald Reagan. He’s also had his share of age-related concerns, including walking slowly and unsteadily at times.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 80, has experienced two recent public moments of “freezing” or speechlessness at press conferences.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), 90, is by many accounts no longer mentally fit to serve, with her staff no longer making her publicly available for interviews.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley proposes mandatory mental cognitive tests for federal lawmakers ages 75+, including presidents, vice presidents, and Congress members. However, there would be no legal consequences for failing the test, instead serving instead as something of a public embarrassment.
Haley herself is 51.
Now, an even younger politician has put forth a related proposal, this one with actual legal consequences.
What the proposal does
A new constitutional amendment proposal would set a 75 age maximum for a president, vice president, or member of Congress.
It would bar anyone from election if they would turn 75 during their term. Since presidents serve for four-year terms, while Congress members can serve up to six-year terms for senators, this could prevent the election of a president as young as 71 or a senator as young as 69.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that recent events and lapses demonstrate the danger of having top government officials at such advanced ages.
“The world’s not getting slower, it’s getting faster. The world’s not getting safer, it’s getting more dangerous. The world’s not getting any younger — and we have a lower bound, it just makes sense to have an upper bound,” Rep. James told Fox News Digital.
“You can’t watch a video of Feinstein or McConnell or Biden and tell me that everything’s okay,” Rep. James continued. “It’s not just us saying it, it’s our adversary seeing it. They see that America has lost a step.”
For what it’s worth, Rep. James is 42.
What opponents say
Some opponents counter that the true harm comes more from cognitive loss, rather than age in and of itself.
Some opponents, even those sympathetic to the idea that politicians often remain in office for years or decades too long, find more effective ways to tackle the problem. Harvard University lecturer in government Christopher Rhodes described one such proposal in the headline of an Al Jazzera opinion column: “The U.S. doesn’t need age limits — it needs term limits.”
Indeed, Rep. James himself seemed to contradict his own constitutional amendment proposal, since he endorsed Trump for president in July.
Odds of passage
The constitutional amendment has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
A constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, and three-quarters of the state legislatures (38 of the 50).