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Why you should get used to aging politicians like McConnell and Biden
“We’re graying at an unprecedented rate we've never seen before by practically every metric,” author Bill Kole tells Supercreator. “People aren't going to let go of the levers of power so easily.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST
In the face of a barrage of questions from congressional reporters, Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL (R-Ky.) gave a nothing-to-see-here vibe during his first Capitol Hill press conference a week after he froze up for more than 30 seconds at a public appearance back home.
In fact, he restated his intention to complete his term as the top Senate Republican and Kentucky’s senior senator through 2024 and 2026, respectively.
McConnell, 81, is not alone when it comes to speculation about fitness to serve.
Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.) remains under fierce scrutiny as the 90-year-old navigates the final year and a half of her storied career following a rough bout with shingles. And President JOE BIDEN, already the oldest person to occupy the White House at 80, is running for reelection as three-quarters of Americans think he’s too old to do so.
But despite intensifying calls for term and age limits in federal office, journalist WILLIAM KOLE, author of the upcoming book The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging, argues that older Americans’ lock on higher office is only going to intensify as baby boomers age into their 100s.
I hopped on the phone with Kole on Wednesday afternoon to get his thoughts on why Americans should get used to aging politicians, if older elected officials are inevitable in American democracy, and the pros and cons of older political leaders calling the shots. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to write the book?
You mentioned my grandmother. She was definitely an inspiration. She sort of kindled within me a lifelong fascination with people who are 100 and older.
She was born in 1899 and died in 2003 so her life touched parts of three centuries. And when you have somebody like that in your family, it just changes you.
But there were two other things. One was when I was based in Paris for AP, I wrote stories about the oldest person whose birth could be authenticated by records. Writing about the oldest human of all of us who ever lived was fascinating.
And then, a few years ago, at the height of COVID, I decided to check in on how the 100-plus population was doing. And it was bad news. People who lived through the Holocaust and two world wars and the 1900s influenza pandemic weren't beating this and entire limbs were falling off of family trees. And it made me think, ‘I just want to take a deeper dive into this demographic’—these superhumans, if you will.
I’m still making my way through the book, but the thesis seems to be that Americans should get used to aging politicians. Can you explain why?
We’re graying at an unprecedented rate and at a scale we've never seen before by practically every metric.
I’ll just mention a few. In 2034, just 10 years from now, adults 65 and older are going to outnumber children 17 and younger for the first time in US history. And the year after that, the number of us who are 85 or older is going to double to nearly 12 million.
People aren't going to let go of the levers of power so easily. The Baby Boomer generation is demographically a huge, big deal and there's a lot of boomers—I'm one of them—and they still got tread on their tires. And that's not good news for millennials and Gen Z.
Are older politicians inevitable in American democracy? There seems to be a sense of resignation from my generation and the one after us that this is the way it has to be.
No, I don't really.
I think we have these demographic realities that we're facing, but a little historical perspective is good here. We've had 46 presidents in our nearly two-and-a-half-century history and the median age of chief executive has been 55. Of course, right now we have the oldest president who's ever occupied the White House. And we have an old Congress, but it wasn't always like that.
I think it's also important to realize how politically energized and motivated Gen Z and millennials are. And I think that their influence is being felt. We saw it in the 2022 midterms, which incrementally lowered the age of Congress—not much, but it did a little bit. And I think that they're going to be a force to be reckoned with next year. And it's only going to increase. So I think there's definitely hope for younger generations.
But let's face it: The Constitution doesn't set upper limits, it sets lower limits. So the framers clearly valued experience over youth and so we have to deal with that as well.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of older elected officials?
One advantage, I guess, is the experience that comes with living long, raising a family, and going through life's different seasons and challenges. Certainly, people develop pretty vast networks over the course of time, they learn how to compromise and how things work at the federal level, and so they're able to function at a pretty high level in terms of just getting things done.
The disadvantages are really profound. Many studies have looked at how older politicians vote in the House and Senate and the kinds of legislation they introduce, and it's almost always issues that are top of mind for them and they're, in some cases, neglecting the things that are really important to younger voters and younger people. So that's a huge drawback.
You’ve traveled the world as a journalist. Can you provide some global perspective on the politics of age in other governments?
Japan, of course, comes to mind right away in terms of being the oldest society. One in three people in Japan is 65 or older. Age is also respected, even revered, culturally. They seem to really have figured out a lot of aspects of dealing with an aging population well and thoughtfully.
But most of my time, I worked in Europe. And Europe is a really interesting place in this regard. It's demographically the oldest continent in the world, but they've been electing younger leaders in the past number of years. And that's sort of reversing a pattern of letting people sort of stay in power until they run out of gas.
If you have people who are really old running a country, you risk economic stagnation because older leaders are a little more resistant to try new things and they're more interested in preserving the status quo. And so we have new technologies always coming up and leveraging those for the greater good, they're a little more hesitant to do that and more hesitant to take chances than younger leaders who are more techno-savvy.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Friday’s edition of Supercreator Daily will feature part two of my conversation with Kole. We discuss the policies lawmakers can put in place to support older Americans, how to set today’s five-year-olds who may live to 100 up for future success, how to nurture our older loved ones, and what surprised him most while writing the book.
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SCHUMER TO TEE UP FIRST THREE FUNDING BILLS
Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) today will file a motion to begin floor consideration of a “minibus” package of three funding bills next week as lawmakers race against the clock to keep the government open beyond the end of the month.
The first vote is expected Monday evening and be followed by regular order—a process of governance that includes the ability for senators to propose and vote on amendments ahead of a final vote on the minibus.
The three bills the Senate will consider—Agriculture-FDA, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development—all unanimously passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee this summer, a remarkable demonstration of bipartisanship that Senate leaders hope remains in the weeks ahead.
This unity has enabled Schumer to rhetorically whack House Republicans for the one-sidedness of their funding bills, which passed along party lines.
“House Republicans should follow the Senate’s example and work with Democrats to pass strong, bipartisan appropriation bills,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Wednesday morning. “They’ll have their first chance to show their commitment to bipartisanship when they return next week.”
Government funding expires at midnight on Oct. 1. The House will be in session 11 days before this deadline, the Senate 15 days. The House has passed just one of the 12 bills that fund the federal government, while the Senate has passed none.
This will require Congress to pass a stop-gap measure, known as a continuing resolution or “CR” for Washington folks who love an acronym for everything, to keep the lights on while lawmakers work on an agreement to fund the government for the full 2024 fiscal year.
MARTIN ANNOUNCES BID TO BE CONGRESS’S YOUNGEST MEMBER
Move over, MAXWELL FROST. There’s another Gen-Zer looking to join you in Congress.
25-year-old ISAIAH MARTIN on Wednesday announced his bid to represent Texas’s 18th congressional district, comprised of inner city Houston and the surrounding area. If elected, Martin, an aerospace consultant, would be the youngest member of Congress and the second from Gen Z after Frost won his Orlando, Florida seat last year.
Martin’s launch video focuses heavily on his upbringing as a civically engaged kid who was taught the value of American democracy by his parents in his early years. He also devotes ample runtime to his work to turn the University of Houston’s campus stadium into a polling location and anti-voter legislation supported by Republican Gov. GREG ABBOTT and Texas Republicans.
In addition to voting rights, Martin’s website lists health care, job training, immigration, reproductive freedom, and gun violence among the issues he’ll prioritize on the campaign trail. Notably missing: A section on climate change, a top priority for most young candidates. (Martin did list a climate-related bill among the first he would co-sponsor if elected.)
Martin is running to replace Rep. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-Texas) who is campaigning to be Houston’s next mayor and for whom he previously interned. The seat was also held by the late BARBARA JORDAN, the first Black woman from the South elected to Congress.
The district has voted for a Democrat in every election since 1972. Biden carried it by a 76–23 percent margin in 2020.
Voters of Tomorrow, a leading Gen-Z advocacy group, endorsed Martin for Congress soon after his announcement with Executive Director SANTIAGO MAYER describing Martin as the embodiment of the generation.
“Electing Isaiah offers our generation the opportunity to have a brilliant representative who deeply understands the issues that matter most to us,” Mayer said in a statement. “Voters of Tomorrow is proud to support Isaiah Martin and to mobilize the youth vote to send him to Congress.”
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THEY DID THAT
Chuck Schumer slammed Senate Republicans for filing a resolution to overturn the Biden administration’s latest efforts to provide student debt relief. “It’s becoming a trend,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Democrats work hard to find new ways to provide relief for borrowers in need, and then Republicans, instead of working with us to find a fix to our broken student loan system, immediately shoot them down.”
Reps. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D-N.Y.) and JENNIFER GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN (R-Puerto Rico) reintroduced a bill that would enable FEMA to accept a broader range of homeownership and occupancy documentation from survivors of major disasters.
President Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning and had no symptoms. He also tested negative on Monday night and on Tuesday following First Lady Dr. JILL BIDEN’s positive test on Sunday evening. The president will be tested again tomorrow before traveling to India for the G20. Dr. Biden is well and remains in Delaware.
President Biden announced his administration is canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the Trump administration in the Arctic Refuge, a national wildlife refuge in northeastern Alaska. The White House says the move will protect more than 13 million acres in the region and honor the Alaska natives who have lived on the lands for generations.
President Biden called GABE AMO to congratulate him on winning the Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s first congressional district. Amo, who was a special assistant to the president before running for Congress, is heavily favored to win the general election in November.
Vice President KAMALA HARRIS had Joe Biden’s back when asked about concerns he’s too old for office.
The Education Department announced that it will host the 2023 National HBCU Week Conference in Virginia later this month. The conference is billed as the nation’s premier convening of key influencers in the HBCU space.
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN made an unannounced trip to Ukraine as the country’s counteroffensive against Russia enters its fourth month. The visit is Blinken’s since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and comes as lawmakers consider a request from the White House for billions of dollars in additional Ukraine aid. Blinken announced $1 billion in new aid for Kyiv while on the ground.
A judge ruled former President Trump liable in a second defamation case brought by advice columnist E. JEAN CARROLL. A jury will decide on damages in January.
All times Eastern
10 a.m. President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing. The Senate is in with two votes scheduled at 11:45 a.m. to confirm ADRIANA KUGLER to be a member of the Federal Reserve and to advance the nomination of ANNA GOMEZ to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission. The Senate will vote at 1:45 p.m. to confirm the Gomez nomination if it advances this morning.
4:45 p.m. The president will leave the White House to travel to Ramstein, Germany for a refueling stop on the way to New Delhi, India.
9:15 p.m. Vice President Harris will attend the East Asia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.
2:50 a.m. The vice president will travel from Jakarta to Yokota Air Base in Japan for a refueling stop.
The House is out.
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