“I think it’s totally appropriate for people to look at my age,” Biden said last year. “Just like when I was 29, was I old enough? And now, am I fit enough? ... I’m in good shape”

By Adam Carlson
November 20, 2020 04:19 PM
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President-elect Joe Biden turned 78 on Friday — a bit of birthday celebration (which he spent meeting with congressional leaders) in the middle of his transition to the White House in two months. On Jan. 20, he will be sworn in as the oldest commander-in-chief in U.S. history.

Predecessor Donald Trump, who is still trying to fight the election results, was until Biden the oldest-ever president to take office. He was 70 at his inauguration, in 2017.

Age has played a complicated and at times discomfiting role in the most recent presidential campaign: Various polls showed it was a concern among many voters in the lead-up to the election — something Trump, ever pugilistic, tried to wield as a weapon against his rival by claiming Biden, only a few years older than him, was too enfeebled to take office.

Trump went so far as to claim Biden was secretly suffering from dementia, relishing any verbal slip or garbled word during a public appearance. Trump meanwhile faced scrutiny during some of his own events, as when he seemed to struggle to hold a glass of water or walk down a ramp.

"The same guy who thought that the 9/11 attack was a 7-Eleven attack. He's talkin' about dementia?" Biden said on 60 Minutes in October. "All I can say to the American people is: Watch me ... see what I've done ... see what I'm gonna do. Look at me. Compare our physical and mental acuity. I'm happy to have that comparison. "

Former President Jimmy Carter, the oldest living president at 96, said last year that he supported an age limit for those in the White House but he didn't mention anyone by name — not Trump and Biden, in their 70s, or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was then 78 and seeking the Democratic nomination.

Carter was 52 when he took office in 1977.

“I hope there’s an age limit,” he said in September 2019. “If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president.”

The former vice president has repeatedly waved off these concerns during his time on the trail.

President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty
Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump
| Credit: Getty images (2)

“I think it’s totally appropriate for people to look at my age,” Biden said last year. “Just like when I was 29 [and elected to the Senate], was I old enough? And now, am I fit enough? I’ll completely disclose everything about my health. I’m in good shape.”

The New York Times' editorial board referenced Carter's earlier comments when they asked Biden last December: "Are you too old to be running for president?"

"Watch me. Watch me. All this stuff about lack of energy — come get in the bus with me, 16 hours a day, 10 days in a row. Come see me," Biden replied.

He said he exercised every morning: "I do three things: I bike, treadmill and I lift. ... I’m not in bad shape."

Also last December, Biden's physician released a three-page summary of his health history describing him as "healthy" and "vigorous" while noting previous issues, including an aneurysm in 1988.

Speaking with the Times' editorial board late last year, Biden defended his strength with voters after decades of public life — of ups and downs, scandals and successes and the slings-and-arrows of the spotlight.

"Name me a nominee who’s taken as many hits from the beginning ... who has taken the hits," he said. "You all declare me, not you, editorially, in a broad sense, declare me dead and guess what? I ain’t dead. I’m not going to die."

He added: "I’m not going to die politically."