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In an Aging Senate, Many Members Face Health Setbacks

Illnesses lead to missing senators and delayed action on Capitol Hill

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sixteen senators will be at least 65 by Election Day 2018.

Top Republicans, who are coping with a razor-thin majority in the Senate as they try pushing a partisan agenda, are running smack into another complication — the sheer age and health issues of some senators.


When the office of the ailing Sen. Thad Cochran, 79, announced Monday that it was the Mississippi Republican's "intention to return to the Senate when his health permits," it underscored the challenges of navigating a chamber that's the second oldest ever. Cochran's absence narrows the GOP's margin for error on a pivotal budget vote this week, and the Appropriations Committee that he chairs hasn't churned out any spending bills for next year since he was last in Washington in mid-September.

Other senators have had health issues that have caused them to miss time this year in Washington. In July, the Senate delayed votes for a week on repealing former President Obama's health care law after Sen. John McCain, 81 (R-Ariz.), was diagnosed with brain cancer. And Sen. Johnny Isakson, 72 (R-Ga.), was away for two back surgeries early in 2017.

Two 80-somethings — one from each party — are among 16 senators facing reelection who on Election Day 2018 will be at least 65 — an age when many people already have retired.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, 83 (R-Utah), hasn't announced whether he'll seek an eighth term. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — at 84 the oldest senator — has said she will run again.

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