Congress has become the nation’s most exclusive Memory Care facility

Detail from a February, 2024 campaign mailer showing Rep. John Carter looking his age. (Scan by

 The elderly gentleman who represents me in Washington is Representative John Carter of Round Rock.  At 82, he is currently the twelfth-oldest member of the House.

But he is not the poster boy for aging politicians.  That would be 81-year-old Joe Biden, the bumbling, forgetful, and angry President of the United States. Biden is furious about the report from special counsel Robert Hur that details Biden’s diminished faculties and failing memory. This issue of age, and more important, fitness to serve, is a reminder that political power is addictive and few are willing to give it up.  With the passing of Senator Dianne Feinstein, at least nineteen members of Congress are 80 or older.

Random Samplings is a service of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Being old does not necessarily mean unfit to serve.

With Feinstein gone, the eldest member of Congress is Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.  I know of no instances in which this 89-year-old has shown indications of mental decline.  However, and I say this as a man who is no spring chicken himself, when the birthdays keep coming, the memories start failing.  It’s simply biology, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  But there is a time to hang it up.

Video:  Above, a portion of Biden’s “disastrous” news conference.  Below, commentary about the same event.

Members of the political class, including presidents, diplomats, and congressmen seem to cling to power like a dog clings to a bone.  Some can still get the job done.  Henry Kissinger, who recently passed away at 100 appeared lucid till the end.  President Ronald Reagan has gone down in history as one of the greats even though he showed signs of Alzheimer’s while still in office.

It stands to reason that when some twenty members of Congress are octogenarians, we might have a problem.

The bigger problem than age, to me, is the idea that these people refuse to give up power and the fame associated with being a nationally known political figure.  They like having an entourage when coming back to the district, and having reporters fawn over them.  They love being on Fox News and CNN.  They like their congressional perks like franking privileges, and being able to travel on the taxpayer dime.

That’s why I often mention how many literally die in office, refusing to give it up, even in the face of advanced age, mental decline, or disease. The three most recent: Robert Byrd who had to be wheeled in to make important votes and who died in office the age of 93, Edward M. Kennedy, 77, who had a terminal brain tumor but still clung to power, and Dianne Feinstein whose aides sat beside her to help her vote on important bills.

Video:  Republican House leader Mitch McConnell has an apparent brain freeze.

Here are the twenty oldest members of Congress as of last year.   

Of this list, one has passed (Feinstein) and one is retiring.  The rest are hanging on for dear life.  This list comes from an article in the New York Times written by Annie Karni and published on September 8, 2023.  The original source is: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Note that #8 on this list is 83-year-old Rep. Nancy Pelosi who served as Speaker of House until the GOP regained the majority, and the current Republican leader of the Senate is Mitch McConnell, who at 81 and #13 on the list, has experienced brain freezes twice while on camera.

x. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, 90 (deceased)

  1. Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, 89
  2. Representative Grace F. Napolitano, Democrat of California, 86 (retiring)
  3. Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, 86
  4. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat of the District of Columbia, 86
  5. Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, 85
  6. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, 85
  7. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, 84
  8. Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, 83
  9. Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, 83
  10. Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, 82
  11. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, 82
  12. Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas, 81
  13. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, 81
  14. Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida, 80
  15. Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California, 80
  16. Representative Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, 80
  17. Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, 80
  18. Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, 80
  19. Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, 80

Is it time for age limits?  Or term limits?

In a previous column, I noted how Congressman John Carter is always “fighting” for his district, but the last time I saw him in person, at a Trump rally at the Austin Convention Center, he appeared frail. Frankly, I don’t believe he has much in the way of ability to “fight” anyone.

He survives by being a part of the Central Texas establishment and bringing home pork.  Yet, Carter is seeking another term although he has already served 12 terms. That’s 24 years in the U.S. House and he wants another one. This is what we, as a country, need to stop.

Video:  A current campaign commercial featuring Congressman John Carter.  The issues are fine, but is Carter?

I’m a believer that if an 80-year-old is sharp and focused and has no mental or physical issues, then forge ahead. I’m also a believer that none of the elite politicians owns his seat in Washington. And yet, the power of incumbency is hard to beat – franking privileges, free news coverage and all that!

Terms limits would fix the problem once and for all. 

Twelve years seems about right to me.  That’s two terms in the Senate or six terms in the House of Representatives.  I realize that our system is based on seniority.  Twelve years respects that, and keeps experienced people in Washington, while bringing in new blood.

The problem is that Congress would have to pass a term limits bill. 

My guess is that few members would entertain such a bill because it goes against their self-interest in holding onto power until they die.  If we can’t get a term limits bill, Congress will look more and more like the memory care unit at some nice retirement community.

Lynn Woolley is a Texas-based author, broadcaster, and songwriter.  Follow his podcast at  Check out his author’s page at  Order books direct from Lynn at https://PlanetLogicPress.Square.Site.  Email Lynn at


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