Sanders Blasts Nikki Haley’s ‘Absurd’ Proposal for Age-Based Competency Test for Politicians

Bernie Sanders Campaigns For Democratic Candidates In Michigan Ahead Of Primary - Credit: Getty Images
Bernie Sanders Campaigns For Democratic Candidates In Michigan Ahead Of Primary - Credit: Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders laughed off as “absurd” Republican Nikki Haley’s proposal to require mental competency tests for political candidates over the age of 75. The former South Carolina governor floated the idea during her presidential campaign announcement this past week, claiming that “generational change” is needed in politics.

“Former ambassador Nikki Haley is running for president, as you know, and she said there should be a mandatory mental competency test for politicians older than 75. You’re 81. Do you take offense at that? Do you agree?” host Margaret Brennan asked the senator during a Sunday appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation.

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Sanders responded by calling the proposal “absurd.”

“I think that’s absurd,” Sanders said. “We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia. I think we should also be fighting ageism. Trust people, look at people and say, you know, this person is competent, this person is not competent.”

Sanders continued by pointing out that “there are a lot of 40 year-olds out there who ain’t particularly competent,” adding, “Older people, you know, you look at the individual, I don’t think you make a blanket statement.”

Tests of mental cognition were a topic of conversation during the Trump administration when he bragged that he “aced” a cognitive test administered by the White House physician. Currently 76 years-old, Trump would be required to take a mental competency test if Haley has her way. As would Sanders, age 81, and President Joe Biden, age 80. Haley, at 51, however, would be exempt.

But experts say cognitive tests wouldn’t necessarily accurately assess whether a person is competent to be in office. “Cognitive tests, a lot of them, are timed, and we know that neurological processing slows with age. So you can come out looking impaired, even if you’re not really,” Oregon State University gerontologist Carolyn Aldwin, who directs the school’s gerontology program, told Slate.

Another expert, David Nace, chief of geriatric medicine at University Pittsburgh Medical Center, pointed out to Slate that cognitive tests “don’t necessarily determine that you have capacity.”

Backing a mandatory age-based competency test is one of the only ways Haley has so far distinguished herself from Trump. In multiple interviews, Haley has refused to talk about the political differences between the former president and herself.

Sanders isn’t the only senator who scoffed at Haley’s proposed competency test. “I think she should test her own mental competency,” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono said of the idea. “Come on, how many times has she said she’s fighting Trump, and then the next thing you know, she’s kissing his ring?”

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