How long is too long? Congressional health scares raise questions about fitness to serve

How lengthy is just too lengthy? Congressional well being scares increase questions on health to serve

Don’t go mild into that good night time,
Previous age ought to burn and rave at shut of day;
Rage, rage in opposition to the dying of the sunshine. – Dylan Thomas

The time is brief. There’s all the time a rush. And if you’re a member of Congress, you might be all the time on the clock.

Six years within the Senate. Two years within the Home. The cycle is relentless.

Lawmakers are defeated, they retire or resign. Most of them lament that they by no means achieved all the pieces they wished in workplace.

That’s not as a result of they didn’t strive. The political circumstances weren’t proper. The problem hadn’t ripened but. Their proposal obtained ignored on the parliamentary reducing room ground.


Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell took questions after taking a break from a information convention due to lightheadedness, after the Senate luncheons on July 26, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Name)

However lawmakers all the time grumble. Regardless of how lengthy they have been in workplace, there merely wasn’t sufficient time.

Politicians usually aren’t shrinking violets. In any other case, they wouldn’t have gotten into this enterprise. They are often cussed. Unwilling to be pushed round. Plus, as lawmakers get older, they’re sprinting in opposition to the dying of the political gentle – be it the size of their political phrases or time on this mortal coil.

That’s why current incidents involving 81-year-old Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pose questions on whether or not age and well being needs to be a think about somebody’s health to serve.

How lengthy is just too lengthy?


They could be among the many strongest leaders in America. However they’re no match for the good equalizers: well being and age.

McConnell froze for practically 20 seconds on the Senate GOP’s weekly press convention just lately. Different Republican senators led the Kentucky Republican away earlier than he returned a bit later to subject questions from reporters.

Feinstein appeared addled at a current Senate Appropriations Committee assembly. Feinstein started giving a speech on the assembly – even because the committee was voting on a selected proposal. An aide appeared to attempt to information Feinstein.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

There have been elevated requires McConnell to retire following an incident throughout a current press look. (Alex Wong/Getty Pictures)

“I want to help a ‘sure’ vote on this. It supplies $823 billion…” stated Feinstein earlier than Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., interrupted.

“Simply say ‘aye,’” coached Murray.

“OK. Simply ‘aye!’” stated Feinstein, with fun.

Age stalks 80-year-old President Biden. Republicans routinely query the president’s age and health for workplace – particularly after he tripped over a sandbag whereas handing out diplomas on the Air Pressure Academy this spring. Mr. Biden additionally gave meandering remarks final month whereas assembly with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

“I believe that it is reliable to debate the age of the president who’s operating for re-election,” stated Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

To be honest, Lummis additionally talked about that former President Trump – now the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – will not be precisely a spring hen at age 77.

The White Home traditionally dismisses issues concerning the age of the present commander in chief.

“The age remark has been on the market,” stated White Home press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “And what has this president finished? He beat Republicans in 2020. He beat Republicans in 2022.”

Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein following her first listening to after combating sickness and being absent from the Senate for nearly three months. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Pictures)

As for McConnell, there are stage whispers within the Senate’s marble corridors that the minority chief isn’t the identical since lacking six weeks earlier this 12 months. McConnell suffered a concussion and cracked ribs after a tumble within the restroom of a Washington, D.C., resort.

McConnell usually speaks extra quietly and with a deep rumble since returning to the Senate after the accident.

“He ought to inform us if one thing larger is happening,” stated Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.


McConnell appeared over the weekend on the annual “Fancy Farm Picnic” in southwestern Kentucky. The fete dates again to the late nineteenth century. The Bluegrass State’s political royalty from either side provides speeches and chats with voters.

When McConnell spoke, Democrats within the crowd jeered the minority chief with chants of “Retire! Retire!”

McConnell noticed this was his twenty eighth look on the Fancy Farm soiree.

“I wish to guarantee you it’s not my final,” stated McConnell. “The folks of this state have chosen me seven instances to do that job. I need you to know the way grateful I’m.”

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, who’s looking for re-election, shall be 82 on the time of the following election. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Nonetheless, McConnell has additionally tripped and fallen on two different events this 12 months.

That’s why Senate Republicans are tiptoeing round this delicate query surrounding McConnell, his well being and whoever could ultimately emerge because the chief of Senate Republicans.

“I believe he’ll know when the time is correct,” stated Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., when requested about McConnell’s future.

These well being episodes set off refined political jockeying amongst those that may prospectively succeed McConnell because the Senate GOP chief.

The main focus is on the “three Johns.” That’s Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. All three have management chops. As GOP whip, Thune stepped into the void when McConnell was absent earlier this 12 months. One supply famous that earlier than McConnell’s damage, his workplace dealt with nearly all management points. However even since McConnell’s return, Thune continues to sort out a handful of management duties.

Barrasso presently serves because the Republican convention chair, the third-highest rating GOP slot. Cornyn served as majority whip from 2015 by means of 2019.

A reporter requested Thune in late July if McConnell ought to search the highest management publish within the subsequent Congress.

Thune 2022 SD Election

Sen. John Thune was requested if McConnell ought to search the highest management publish within the subsequent Congress. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“The brand new Congress is eighteen months away,” replied Thune, pivoting instantly to a different topic. “I’m attempting to determine methods to get the protection authorization (invoice) off the ground right this moment.”

Such a response is frequent for these with management aspirations. They wish to be talked about as within the operating for every time one other chief strikes on – for one cause or one other. However they don’t wish to speak themselves about pushing to get the management slot. It’s an suave dance to make your self a part of the dialog – but concurrently not seem as if you might be shoving somebody out the door.

That stated, time is undefeated. Almost half of all senators are actually age 67 or older. And the time for all leaders is ultimately up, a technique or one other.


For example, former Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stays in Congress as a rank and file member. However Pelosi ceded the speaker’s gavel in January at age 82. She turned 83 this previous March.

“I consider there needs to be a standards of health to serve of cognitive testing or cognitive evaluation,” stated Dr. Mark Siegel, a medical contributor to Fox. “That is what the senators owe us and that is what needs to be finished.”

Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol

Rep. Nancy Pelosi just lately turned 83 years previous. (Getty Pictures)

Siegel and others raised that difficulty after the election of Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., final 12 months. Fetterman struggles to talk and has points processing audio after a 2022 stroke. He typically makes use of a pill to speak or assist him digest oral questions. Fetterman took workplace in January, however nearly instantly took medical depart from the Senate for despair.

Regardless of Fetterman’s points with audio and talking, there’s no proof the senator has cognitive issues.

However right here’s the constitutional difficulty with Siegel’s proposal.

Voters could also be involved about lawmakers who’re older or endure from seen well being points like McConnell and Feinstein. However imposing different {qualifications} for service could also be out of bounds. Article I, Part 3 of the Structure solely lists three necessities for somebody to serve within the Senate. Individuals have to be 30 years of age, a U.S. citizen and reside within the state they signify on the time of the election.

The Senate has lengthy seen many members grasp round too lengthy.


Former Senate Majority Chief Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., come to thoughts. Byrd stepped down as majority chief within the late Eighties – but remained within the Senate till his dying in 2010 at age 92. Thurmond was nonetheless a senator when he was 100.

US President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro look on as US Senator John Fetterman

Democrat Sen. John Fetterman sparked concern after admitting himself into the hospital to be handled for despair. (Julia Nikhinson/Getty Pictures)

Siegel says he counsels people who find themselves older but wholesome to maintain working so long as they’ll.

“However the issue is that the final individual to know that they’re now not functioning is often the individual themselves,” stated Siegel.

Siegel additionally stated it’s one factor to proceed to function senator. However it’s one other enterprise to shoulder official management duties at a sophisticated age. That’s why Byrd and Pelosi stepped apart.

Earlier than McConnell’s newest episode, a number of senators remarked how he rattled off information and figures on the closed door lunch with out notes.

“He was on the high of his sport,” stated one Republican senator.

Nonetheless, one other GOP senator informed Fox McConnell didn’t seem properly on the Senate ground the day earlier than he froze.

Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell within the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 27, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Pictures)

So it’s laborious to say when is when for anybody. However as soon as elected, voters can’t do a lot about it if somebody is infirm or in failing well being.


In spite of everything, as Dylan Thomas wrote, lawmakers are combating “in opposition to the dying of the sunshine” from the second they’re sworn in. A six-year time period. A two-year time period. A lot to do. So little time.

And that very same mantra applies to the remainder of us, too.

Whether or not we serve in Congress or not.

Author: ZeroToHero

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