By Steve Holland and Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden turned 80 on Sunday, making him the first octogenarian president in U.S. history.
He is set to celebrate his birthday with a brunch hosted by his wife, Jill, a celebration that has an extra lift this weekend and his granddaughter’s wedding at the White House on Saturday.
With Biden already the oldest person to run for president, the 2024 race for the White House will 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 past the traditional retirement age of 65.
Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left the White House, but Biden will be 86 when his second four-year term ends, if he wins. His main potential Republican opponent, Donald Trump, will be 82 years old 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 older population is expected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. By 2026, more than one in four men over 65 will still be working, the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau projects.
Some Americans have concerns about the advanced age of the two most likely 2024 candidates.
While 71% of Democrats think Biden is “mentally sharp and able to overcome challenges,” 46% say he won’t be up to the challenge of running in 2024, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken Nov. 8 and 9. A quarter of Republicans, 26%, think Trump may not be until 2024 because of his age.
Political affiliation aside, 68% of those surveyed thought Biden might not be able to challenge two years from now, and 49% said the same about Trump. About 86% of Americans said they believe the cutoff for becoming president should be age 75 or younger, the poll found.
Biden’s verbal stumbles and tendency to go off script during live appearances have been seized upon by his Republican critics as evidence that he is too old for the job. Supporters say the president, who overcame a childhood stutter, has been ad-libbing in public speeches for years.
Biden’s prospects for a second term received a boost last week when Democrats did better than expected in midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections.
Asked about concerns about Biden’s age ahead of his 80th birthday, the White House said his latest record speaks for itself.
“As candidate Biden said in 2019, ‘watch him,'” replied spokesman Andrew Bates.
“Since then, he has won the most votes of anyone in American history, achieved unprecedented job creation, made large corporations pay their fair share in taxes, empowered Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, and signed the most significant gun reform in 30 years and the largest infrastructure investment since 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 applauded the Democrats’ success under Biden, but remained uncertain about the possibility of another term.
“I think he’s done a good job in his time,” said Illinois resident Paul Klenck. “I am concerned that someone will also be in their mid-80s to serve as President. I can’t think of a more demanding job than that.”
Others say criticism of Biden’s age is discriminatory.
“Few 60-year-olds have to go anywhere near political power,” New York City resident Catharine Stimpson, 86, said in an interview. “I think satire about him and sneering at him is ageism. 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 say how old I am going to be. I can’t even get it out of my mouth,” he said.
Biden said questions about his age were “actually legal” but that he intended to seek another term.
America is aging, leaders are aging
The outgoing Congress is one of the oldest in US 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, Pew Research shows.
Some members have years of Biden and Trump. Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is 80. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, 89, won another six-year term last week.
Americans are not necessarily comfortable with that situation. Two-thirds of those surveyed supported 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 did not even register in the top 10 list of the current oldest leaders in the world, which is led by the 89-year-old president of Cameroon, Paul Biya.
“There is a reason why other people look to their elders for wisdom and guidance. This is because they have that experience, which should not be discounted,” said Deborah Kado, co-director of the longevity center at Stanford University.
Kado and other aging experts say they see no signs Biden can’t do his job.
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-agers,” with the mental faculties of younger people.
“The age has been weaponized and people from other parties, whatever party you are dealing with, will continue to say that there is something wrong with this individual,” he said. “Our people 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, collected 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)