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Congress needs to follow Mitt Romney’s example, and let a new generation lead  

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is seen during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for Homeland Security on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Greg Nash
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is seen during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for Homeland Security on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 83, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 35 years, including eight as the first woman Speaker and third in line to the presidency. She has been inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Among many other achievements, she was instrumental in winning Congress’s approval of the Affordable Care Act and the American Rescue Plan. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the Republican nominee for president in 2012. Utah’s voters elected him to the Senate in 2019. Two years later, he received a prestigious Profile in Courage Award for his “constant defense” of democracy. 

Romney was the rare Republican who stepped into the storm Donald Trump created with his ongoing fabrication that Democrats stole the 2020 election. “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” he said.“That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.” He was the only Republican in the Senate to vote twice for Trump’s impeachment. 

What do Pelosi and Romney have in common? They both have stepped back to make way for a younger generation of leaders.  

Romney, 76, says he will not run for reelection. Pelosi plans to run again, but not as Speaker Following her example, House Majority Leader Steny (D-Md.) Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) have stepped aside, too

Romney believes Joe Biden, 80, and Donald Trump, 77, should also make way for the next generation.  

“The times we’re living in really demand the next generation to step up and to express their point of view, and to make the decisions that will shape American politics over the coming century,” he said after his announcement. “And just having a bunch of guys that were around, the baby boomers who were around in the post-war era, we’re not the right ones to be making the decisions for tomorrow.” 

Research shows that age is a factor in the 2024 presidential race. Those who pay attention rank Biden as the most successful president since Lyndon Johnson, especially in winning bipartisan support for key legislation. But a poll last month found that three-quarters of the American people, including 69 percent of Democrats, think he is too old to serve another term. 

A much smaller majority, 51 percent, thinks Trump is too old — though “crime” rather than age is the first word that comes to many people’s minds when they are asked about Trump, the poll found. 

I wrote in June 2022 that most elderly leaders, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now 81, and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), 72, should give their leadership posts to younger members. With due respect, I would add Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 90, the oldest member of the Senate.  

I came to this opinion after talking with a young woman about what her future would be like if we didn’t stop climate change. “Why are our leaders so old?” she asked. “They are deciding our future, but they don’t have to live in it. They should step aside and let the next generation have its turn.” 

The age issue aside, we should hope Americans are intelligent enough, principled enough and too committed to democracy to elect a man who must stand trial for more than 90 alleged felonies and who lied consistently about the last election; spawned a riot; allegedly misappropriated donations; flatters Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un; encourages domestic terrorists, racists and white supremacists to threaten others on his behalf; and may be planning to establish an autocracy in America. Conservative think tanks have already handed Trump a plan for doing it. He was unfit to be president before, and he’s unfit now. 

To be clear, letting a new generation take over does not disparage age. Venerable leaders have served the nation honorably throughout history with the wisdom earned by experience. But they come from a different time in a rapidly changing world. As former President Obama pointed out in 2017, elderly leaders who’ve been in Congress for decades may block young leaders who “could be more innovative and creative solving the problems we face today rather than the problems we faced 35 years ago.” 

Our top leaders would be understandably reluctant to give up the positions they’ve achieved during decades of service. But mentoring the next generation and stepping aside to let it lead would demonstrate what it means for an elected official to put the nation first. 

William S. Becker is co-editor of and a contributor to “Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government for the People,” and a contributor to the just-published book, Democracy in a Hotter Time, He has served in several state and federal government roles, including executive assistant to the attorney general of Wisconsin. He is currently executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), a nonpartisan climate policy think tank unaffiliated with the White House. 

Tags age Congress Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Joe Biden Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi reelection William S. Becker