Opinion: When it comes to term limits, age doesn't matter. Health does
With his recent health problems, the question is being asked out loud:
Is Sen. Mitch McConnell, at the age of 81 years and seven months, too old to serve in the U.S. Senate, especially in a leadership role?
The answer is no, he is not too old.
McConnell is not even close to being the oldest member of Congress. He doesn't even rank in the top 10. He is the fourth oldest senator and the 14th oldest in Congress.
Whether or not he is healthy enough for the duties of leader of the Republicans in the Senate is the real question.
And Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician of Congress, says the answer to that question is yes.
Back in March, McConnell was hospitalized after taking a fall at a D.C. hotel. He suffered a concussion.
And, according to Dr. Monahan, he is still feeling the effects.
In July, there was an alarming incident where McConnell froze up, staring into the distance, during his weekly press conference at the Capitol.
Then, last week, he held a press gaggle after a speech in Covington and froze up briefly again, reigniting the concern about his health and age.
The congressional physician put out a statement saying the two episodes were normal for someone who had suffered a concussion. This week, after consulting with neurologists who looked at McConnell's MRI, Monahan sent a letter to McConnell saying there were no signs that he had suffered a stroke or a mini-stroke and recommended that the senator stay on his current post-concussion treatment plan.
Unless we have an MD behind our names or a neurology certificate on our walls, we really can't argue with the conclusion of those who do.
Here's the truth of the matter: Advancing age hits some people harder than others.
I know something of this from personal experience; I turn 71 in three months.
Mitch McConnell is 81 years old. So, too, is Paul McCartney, the musician my generation grew up with as a Beatle.
McConnell is being treated for a concussion and has been having disturbing blackouts. McCartney, on the other hand, has embarked on a grueling worldwide concert tour that will last well into 2024 and seems no worse for wear.
Age is a number. Health is not.
Their opinions on the subject don't amount to a hill of beans. Or even a plateful of beans.
The only other opinions that count for the time being are those of the other 48 Republicans in the U.S. Senate.
None of them are calling for McConnell to resign. Depending on which way the 2024 election goes, the GOP Senate caucus could — either as a minority or majority — choose someone else to replace McConnell.
Lord knows there are enough of them who would enjoy having people address them as "leader."
For the time being, though, the only opinion that matters is that of McConnell himself.
McConnell has represented Kentucky since 1984 — the year Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as president. His seat won't be up for election until 2026, when he will be 84 years old.
Whether he runs for re-election is an open question.
The oldest member of the Senate, Dianne Feinstein of California, is 90 and missed much of 2023 after dealing with a severe case of shingles and its aftermath. Charles Grassley of Iowa turns 90 on Sept. 17. And Bernie Sanders of Vermont will be 82 this Friday.
The health scares over McConnell and Feinstein have prompted a move to implement term limits for Congress through a constitutional amendment. House Joint Resolution 11 would amend the constitution to limit House members to three two-year terms and senators to two six-year terms.
Term limits are common in the states — Ohio has them for the general assembly, where members routinely get around the law by jumping back and forth between the House and Senate to prolong their political careers.
But constitutional amendments are a long, laborious process with no guarantee of success. Three-fourths of the state legislatures — 38 states — would have to sign on before it became the law of the land.
Maybe it is best to let things take their natural course. Time and tide wait for no man, wrote Chaucer. And woman, too.