MATTHEWS: The renewed debate on age, term limits 

FILE - Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is assisted to a wheelchair by staff as she returns to the Senate after a more than two-month absence, at the Capitol in Washington on May 10, 2023. Attorneys Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress who has been beset with serious health problems, assert in a court filing on Monday, July 17, 2023, that she is being stiffed on payments for “significant” medical bills by a trust created for her benefit by her wealthy, late husband. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

As a general rule, I’m not a fan of term limits for elected officials outside of the president because, in my opinion, the voters should decide whether they’ve had enough of their representatives. 

Age limits, on the other hand, are something I might be able to get behind considering some recent events that were scary enough to make people revisit the issue. 

Last Wednesday, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 81, was holding a press conference when, as he was speaking, he froze for several seconds and looked dazed and unwell. He was led away by colleagues for a short time but then returned later to finish the presser. 

No explanation was given outside of a joke about being “sandbagged.” But considering McConnell reportedly suffered three falls earlier this year, including one that required hospitalization — and is also said to use a wheelchair from time to time, it definitely sparked concern on Capitol Hill. 

In another concerning moment, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is 90, had to be prompted numerous times by another Democratic senator and one of her aides to say “aye” last week during a roll call vote on a defense appropriations bill after Feinstein launched into a speech about why she was prepared to vote for it. 

Rumors have swirled for over a year now about the state of Feinstein’s cognitive and physical health after a bad bout of shingles she had in the spring and several alarming incidents including interviews where she appeared out of sorts. There have also been situations where Feinstein seemed to not remember on what she just voted or what her office had said on her behalf. 

Questions have been raised going back to the days of his 2020 presidential campaign about Joe Biden’s mental and physical health, questions that have only escalated since he took office and voters have gotten to see firsthand why our octogenarian president is kept on a tight leash by his handlers. 

There are a lot of people over 70 years of age serving in Congress. As far as I know, most of them are doing just fine, thank goodness. But the ones who aren’t don’t seem to want to let go of the reins, as evidenced by Feinstein’s insistence that she will serve out her term until the end of 2024, McConnell not showing any signs that he’s ready to retire, and Biden insisting he’s well enough to serve another four years, though he’d be 86 at the end of his second term if he did so. 

Some have suggested in part that because age limits wouldn’t always be fair considering that many senior members in the House and Senate remain sharp as a tack that perhaps mental competency tests are in order. 

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley, 51, a former U.N. Ambassador under then-President Donald Trump, has proposed just that for elected officials over 75 years of age, making it one of the cornerstones of her campaign — along with term limits. 

“In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire,” Haley stated in February at the start of her campaign. “We’ll have term limits for Congress and mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.” 

“America is not past its prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” Haley also said in a call for a “new generation” of leaders in Washington, D.C. 

While I’m on the fence about age limits and mental competency tests, I can’t deny that the idea of a middle ground on the issue interests me. After all, at a certain point, it’s time to admit when your constituents would be better served by someone who is well enough mentally and physically to be able to handle the daily responsibilities of a sitting member of Congress. 

North Carolina native Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a media analyst and regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection