Democrats aren’t thrilled with the idea of their presidential nominee making a pledge to serve only one term in the White House, warning it could diminish the power of the office and turn an election winner into an instant lame duck.
“The notion of a second term gives you a little more bargaining power. If you’re heading out the door, people are going to start looking for a successor very quickly,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate minority whip, said on Thursday.
Politico reported on Wednesday that former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, the third-oldest candidate in the 2020 presidential race, revived the one-term debate privately among his advisers and had signaled to aides he would not seek reelection in 2024. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the oldest in the Democratic race, at age 78, followed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 77.
Biden has faced questions for months over whether he would limit himself to serving one term in the White House if elected. With varying forcefulness, he has denied any such intention and did so again on Wednesday.
“I don’t have any plans on one term,” Biden told ABC News when asked about the Politico report, which he called “just not true.”
Biden’s deputy campaign manager chimed in over Twitter to deny it, as well.
“Lots of chatter out there on this so just want to be crystal clear: this is not a conversation our campaign is having and not something VP Biden is thinking about,” Kate Bedingfield wrote.
Biden has faced questions about his age and mental acuity from rivals for the Democratic nomination and voters on the campaign trail. Last week in Iowa, after a voter objected to Biden’s age, Biden challenged the man to a pushup contest.
“I’m not sedentary,” Biden said. “You want to check my shape ... let’s do push-ups together, let’s run, let’s do whatever you want to do.”
In September, Biden committed to releasing his medical records before the Iowa caucuses in February after former Housing Secretary Julián Castro suggested Biden’s memory was failing.
It’s possible that Biden, if he wins the election, would decide against a second term even if he never makes a public pledge to do so, given the demands of the job and the physical toll it has exacted on previous presidents. If he wins the White House in 2020, Biden would be 78 years old when he takes office. That would make him the oldest first-term president in American history. He would be 81 years old if he decides to seek reelection in 2024, setting another record for the job.
A one-term pledge could shore up Biden’s standing in the Democratic primaries, the theory goes, where he leads polls in most early nominating states despite lackluster support among young people. But the strategy faces dangers in the general election and beyond.
“The risks there are ― you seem to be lame duck right out of the box ― I’d have to think long and hard about it and I still wouldn’t be giving that advice,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.
“That would be really weird, actually. I don’t know who comes up with ideas like that,” added Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), whose 2020 presidential campaign has had trouble gaining traction, said he believed the party’s nominee should run for two terms because “the challenges facing our country are too great.”
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a top Biden supporter in the upper chamber, disagreed with the notion that a one-term pledge would harm the former vice president’s bid for the White House, and questioned why it had even been brought up.
“I don’t know why anybody would even talk about that before he’s even in office,” Feinstein said.
Former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) considered making such a commitment during the 2008 presidential campaign after his fundraising was falling short and fellow Republicans weren’t treating him as the front-runner. McCain, then 72 years old, decided against it.
“They were pushing John to say that and to his credit, he said no,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the late senator’s closest friends, said Thursday. “I said, ‘Don’t say that. What is it about you that you’re worth one term?’ It comes off to me as a sign of weakness.”