EDITORIAL: McConnell America's aging political class

Sep. 1—Why it matters: The machinery of power in Washington is largely operated by elected officials well past standard retirement age.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican caucus, this week froze up in public for the second time in as many months.

Asked in his home state of Kentucky if he planned to seek reelection in 2026, the 81-year-old stared silently into space, gripping the podium with a vacant expression. An aide came to his side and asked if he heard the question, getting no response. She then prompted the reporters to ask another question, and McConnell replied to one about the governor's race.

Something similar happened in July during a Capitol Q-and-A with reporters; in that case Senate colleagues led McConnell away for a few minutes, then he returned to resume taking questions.

These incidents raise questions about McConnell's fitness specifically, and more broadly about this nation's increasingly geriatric political leadership.

Every day, Joe Biden sets a new record as the oldest serving U.S. president. He broke that record when he was inaugurated — and succeeded the previous record holder, Donald Trump. The two men are squaring up for a rematch in 14 months; neither will be any younger.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader and McConnell's Democratic counterpart, is 72. His No. 2, Dick Durbin, is 80. No spring chickens there either.

It should be noted that Senate Democrats have gently moved Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, out of committee chairmanships and out of the presidential line of succession. Her decline has posed some logistical problems for Schumer, but her clout is not what it was.

The House, on the other hand, has transitioned to a younger generation of leadership. Speaker Kevin McCarthy is 58; Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is 53. Jeffries and his triad of lieutenants took the helm of the Democratic caucus last year when Nancy Pelosi and her team, all of them in their upper 70s or older, gave up their positions.

Americans probably don't, in the abstract, really want their government to be in the hands of people well past standard retirement age. But elections are not held in the abstract.

Voters in Kentucky knew McConnell's age when they returned him to the Senate in 2020; his colleagues clearly prefer him at the helm to the alternative, regardless of infirmities real or perceived.

Similarly, primary voters next year will be fully aware of the advanced ages of Biden and Trump. Biden has no realistic primary opponent, in large part because the Democrats are united behind him; Trump has plenty of rivals but at this point no one truly challenging his primacy.

If our government is led by a collection of old folks, it is ultimately by choice.