By Steve Holland and Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden turns 80 on Sunday, making him the first octogenarian president in U.S. history.
He will celebrate his birthday with a brunch hosted by his wife, Jill, a celebration that got an extra boost over the weekend with his grandson’s wedding at the White House on Saturday.
With Biden already the oldest person to serve as president, the 2024 race for the White House is shaping up to be uncharted territory for the United States. The nearly 250-year-old democracy celebrates youth, but millions of Americans — including presidents — are now working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.
Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left the White House, but Biden would be 86 when another four-year term ends if he wins it. His leading potential Republican opponent, Donald Trump, would be 82 when he leaves office if he wins in 2024.
As a society, the United States is aging and working until later in life. The 65-and-over population is expected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060. By 2026, more than one in four men over 65 will still be working, projects the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.
Some Americans are concerned about the advanced age of the two most likely 2024 candidates.
While 71% of Democrats believe Biden is “mentally sharp and able to handle challenges,” 46% say he may not be up to the challenge of running in 2024, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on 8 and 9 November. a quarter of Republicans, 26%, think Trump may not be around in 2024 because of his age.
Political affiliation aside, 68% of respondents think Biden may not be up to the challenge in two years, and 49% say the same about Trump. About 86% of Americans said they believe the limit for serving as president should be 75 or younger, the poll found.
Biden’s occasional verbal stumbles and tendency to veer off script during live performances have been seized upon by his Republican critics as evidence that he is too old for the job. His supporters say the president, who overcame a childhood stutter, has thrived in public speaking for decades.
Biden’s prospects for a second term got a boost last week when Democrats fared better than expected in the congressional and gubernatorial midterm elections.
Asked about concerns about Biden’s age ahead of his 80th birthday, the White House said his recent record speaks for itself.
“As then-candidate Biden said in 2019, ‘watch him,'” replied spokesman Andrew Bates.
“Since then, he won the most votes of anyone in American history, achieved unprecedented job creation, made big business pay their fair share in taxes, authorized Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, and signed the most significant gun reform in 30 years and largest infrastructure investment since the 1950s,” Bates said, calling it “the most successful legislative record of any president since Lyndon Johnson.”
“Keep watching,” he added.
Some Biden supporters said they admired the Democrats’ success under Biden but remained uncertain about a possible next term.
“I think he’s done a great job in the time he’s had,” Illinois resident Paul Klenck said. “I’m concerned that someone well into their mid-80s would serve as president. I can’t think of a more demanding job than that.”
Others said criticism of Biden’s age was discriminatory.
“Some people at 60 shouldn’t be getting anywhere near political power,” New York City resident Catharine Stimpson, 86, said in an interview. “I think the satire about him and mocking him is old age. So let’s look at the individual.”
Asked about his birthday in a recent MSNBC interview, Biden had a reaction that might be familiar to anyone over 50: disbelief. “I can’t even tell what age I’ll be. I can’t even get it out of my mouth,” he said.
Biden said questions about his age were “completely legitimate” but that it was his intention to seek another term.
AGING AMERICA, Aging Leaders
The outgoing Congress is one of the oldest in American history, with more than half of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the Senate part of the “Baby Boomer” generation born between 1946 and 1964, according to Pew Research.
Some members have years on Biden and Trump. Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is 80. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, 89, won another six-year term last week.
Americans are not necessarily comfortable with that situation. Two-thirds of people polled support the idea of having an upper age limit for federal officials, including the president, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices, a Reuters poll showed.
However, Biden does not even register in the top 10 list of the world’s oldest current serving leaders, which is headed by the 89-year-old president of Cameroon, Paul Biya.
“There’s a reason other societies look to their elders for wisdom and guidance. It’s because they have that experience that shouldn’t be discounted,” said Deborah Kado, co-director of the Lifespan Center at Stanford University.
Kado and other experts on aging said they saw no signs that Biden is unable to carry out his duties.
Stuart Jay Olshansky, an expert on aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Biden may be a member of a subset of older Americans who are “super-aged,” with the mental abilities of people decades younger.
“Age has become a weapon and people from the other party, no matter which party you’re dealing with, will always try to say there’s something wrong with this person,” he said. “Those of us who study age as a profession say, ‘Stop using age as a weapon’.”
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted online in English across the United States, gathered responses from 1,003 adults, including 468 Democrats and 342 Republicans. It has a credibility interval – a measure of precision – of 4 percentage points either way.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jason Lange; Editing by Heather Timmons, Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien)