The generational gap within the Democratic Party is causing a growing number of its younger members to become extremely concerned over its ability to maintain its majorities in the House and Senate and thus govern long-term. The reluctance of party elders to “pass the baton,” they collectively fear, could prove to be a legislative Achilles heel.
“Both parties have their share of elderly members (Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley is considering running again next year for a term that would end when he is 93). But Democrats have been grappling with a noticeable generational divide within their ranks for some time — President Joe Biden and top Democratic congressional leaders are all well over 70. Ten of the 12 House members over the age of 80 are Democrats,” Politico wrote.
“The loss of just one Democrat would tip the balance of power in the Senate, which has heightened scrutiny of its oldest member, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has faced recent questions about her fitness for office. She turned 88 on Tuesday. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — now 81 and running for reelection to his ninth term — had a brief hospital scare in January that alarmed activists,” Politico continued.
“At a time of deep polarization and narrow congressional majorities, do older or infirm members have a responsibility to step down to ensure the party has enough votes to advance its agenda?” Politico asked in a media litmus test of several Democrats and progressive insiders.
For example, Julian Brave NoiseCat, the vice president of policy and strategy for Data for Progress, told the outlet that “we are one stroke or car wreck or Me Too scandal from not having a Senate majority,” adding that including Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, “it is the thinnest majority you can have.”
There are also disparities between older and younger Democrats surrounding the party’s policy priorities – such as the Green New Deal, civil rights, and criminal justice reform, NoiseCat noted.
“There’s a generation of young progressives energized by politics, and a big question in front of the Democratic Party in terms of its ability to channel that energy is whether or not they can deliver on issues that matter to young people,” NoiseCat said.
Waleed Shahid, a Democratic strategist and spokesperson for the group Justice Democrats, told Politico that the party’s head honchos – Biden, Pelosi, and Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (70) – are in a race against time that they are not guaranteed – or worse, favored – to win.
“I don’t inherently have a problem with a politician’s age. The issue is that the Democratic Party’s narrow control of the federal government could be upended by illness or death at any moment. That fact should be giving Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi much more urgency to get a broad agenda through Congress as quickly as possible,” Shahid said.
But worries over age are limited Congress. Donald Trump in his single term as president appointed three conservative jurists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy after he retired in 2018 as well as the late Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Such a scenario could easily happen again if a Republican – Trump among them – somehow manages to defeat Biden in 2024.
Of the lopsidedly right-wing Supreme Court’s three remaining liberal Justices, Stephen Breyer is 82 and “faces an organized effort to pressure him to retire and make way for a replacement,” Politico pointed out.
Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, told Politico that “the big divide in the Democratic Party is as much ideological as it is generational. “It applies to how politics is conducted, beyond taxes and crime and the war on drugs.”
He stressed that “there’s no more patience for the idea that the Republicans are going to negotiate in good faith.”
Fortunately, there are simple steps that can be implemented to give younger Democrats more influence over the party’s agenda, such as appointing young lawmakers to leadership roles on congressional committees. Endorsing political upstarts would also be beneficial to mitigate the frustrations of progressives, many of whom see the party is too soft on critical issues like climate change and infrastructure.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.