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Biden says his own age doesn't register with him as he seeks second term

President Biden responded to questions about his age during a press conference at the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday. The president would be 86 by the end of a second term.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
President Biden responded to questions about his age during a press conference at the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday. The president would be 86 by the end of a second term.

Updated April 26, 2023 at 3:43 PM ET

President Biden said that his own age doesn't register with him, despite recent polling that shows Americans have concern over the president's age as he runs for a second term.

At a press conference with the South Korean president on Wednesday, Biden fielded questions from reporters about concerns from voters.

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"With regard to age, I can't even say I guess how old I am, I can't even say the number. It doesn't register with me," Biden said on his age, adding that people are going to watch the campaign and judge for themselves.

"I respect them taking a hard look at it — I'd take a hard look at it, as well. I took a hard look at it before I decided to run, and I feel good. I feel excited about the prospects," he said.

An NBC poll released this weekend found that 70% of Americans don't want Biden to run for reelection, with half of those citing age as a major factor.

Biden was 29 when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, becoming the fifth youngest person to do so. Decades later, at age 78, he became the oldest living president the day he was sworn into office. If elected to a second term, he would be 86 by the end of it.

The president said the same polling data that shows concern for his age also shows support for what he's done in office.

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"When the same polling data asks what kind of job I've done, it gets overwhelmingly positive results," Biden said at a press conference Wednesday.

The data from the NBC poll shows 41% of adults polled approve of Biden's job performance and 54% disapprove, which is down from January. Biden seemed to separate that from approval of particular legislative accomplishments, including creating manufacturing jobs and climate investments.

Biden works out five days a week and received a clean bill of health at his annual physical earlier this year, with his physician concluding that he "remains fit for duty, and fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations."

That doesn't mean that his age won't be an issue on the campaign trail.

In fact, his age as a factor is "indisputable," says David Axelrod, chief strategist for President Obama's campaigns and senior political commentator for CNN.

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"When you look at polling, when you watch focus groups, it's the thing that people bring up first," he says. "We are in uncharted waters, we've never had a president this old."

Still, Axelrod says, there are "upsides" to Biden's age: wisdom, experience and perspective.

"And at a time when there's so much churn and turmoil, those three qualities are assets for him," he told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

Cristina Tzinzún Ramirez, president of the progressive nonprofit NextGen America, says what is most important to young voters is progressive policy change — not age.

"Young voters in the last few elections have turned out in historic numbers. Young people overwhelmingly in 2020, during the Democratic primary, supported the oldest candidate in the race, Bernie Sanders. And then they turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote for Joe Biden."

Ramirez says she thinks young people will turn out again, because Joe Biden has delivered on specific issues they care about: gun reform, climate change legislation, marijuana reform and student debt cancellation. "Ultimately, that's what people are going to measure him by," she said.

Biden's defense: "Watch me"

Questions about Biden's age are nothing new. His opponents used it against him when he ran in 2020, and have continued pointing to his on-camera stumbles to insinuate he is suffering from cognitive issues (a line of attack that often backfires, as NPR has reported).

When asked about Biden's age in a recent White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said "It's the same thing that we heard in 2020. Right? If you look at what the President has done this past two years, he's been able to deliver and get things done."

Axelrod argues that Biden's approach — particularly when it comes to things like being less reactive on social media — is part of why voters elected him in the first place, and that those qualities were what people wanted after the tenure of former President Donald Trump.

Biden's approach is basically "watch me," Axelrod points out, using the phrase the president himself has used.

Axelrod describes being president as "the hardest job on the planet," because of the endless hours and weighty decisions. He says Biden's staff would point to some of his high points as proof he can do it, such as his February State of the Union address, in which he made a pitch to "finish the job."

"He stood on his feet for an hour, he engaged his hecklers and he was triumphant," Axelrod says. "And that's what they're going to say is 'just watch him.'"

But that won't necessarily be enough, says Axelrod, advising Biden to address his age openly, both the "obvious risks" and the advantages.

"He often says 'don't judge me versus the almighty, judge me versus the alternative,'" he adds. "And I think that's what they're counting on now, his strategists — that this isn't going to be a referendum on Joe Biden, this is going to be a choice. And the choice very well may be the same choice we faced four years ago."

Trump isn't a young man either

Trump, the current frontrunner in the Republican primary field, is only four years younger than Biden. He will be 77 in June.

A rematch between the two is looking likely, with a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finding that two-thirds of Republicans would still vote for Trump even if he is found guilty of a crime.

His age could be a concern for voters too, Axelrod says, noting that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is making "generational change a fundamental aspect of her campaign."

In her kickoff speech, Haley called for "mandatory mental competency tests" for candidates over the age of 75.

Axelrod believes others will make a similar argument about Trump's age, "because you can't really exploit this vulnerability as well in Biden if you run a candidate who's basically the same age."

And if either party ends up with a younger candidate, can they make the argument that it's time to move on from the politics of the past?

"They can make that argument and I think it will land with some voters," Axelrod says. "And they'll choose between that and those qualities I mentioned before: wisdom, experience and perspective."

Kaity Kline contributed production and reporting, and John Helton and Miranda Kennedy edited.

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Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.