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By Kathryn A. Wolfe August 27, 2008

Five are more senior, 40 are older

In an Aug. 23, 2008, speech in Springfield, Ill., after Barack Obama announced him as his VP pick, Joe Biden jokingly made reference to his long tenure in the Senate, while also broadcasting that he's not as old as many of his colleagues in the Capitol.

"In all my time in the United States Senate, and I want you to know there's only four senators senior to me, but Barack, there's still 44 older than me," Biden said. "I want you to know that part. But all kidding aside, of all my years in the Senate, I have never in my life seen Washington so broken."

It's true that with 35 years, Biden is one of the most senior lawmakers in the Senate, where seniority is based primarily on the length of consecutive Senate service. But Biden's not ranked fifth as he suggests. Rather, he's sixth, just below New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici.

The top-ranking senior senators are Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., with 49 years; Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., with 46 years; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, with 45 years; and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, with 40 years.

Biden can perhaps be forgiven the slip, since he and Domenici were sworn in on the same day in 1973 (Biden was 30 years old). Domenici's 35 years are ranked higher, though, because Senate rules break ties by taking other factors into account, such as which state is more populous (a contest New Mexico wins handily over Delaware). Also, Domenici has announced that he won't be seeking re-election when his term expires in January 2009, so Biden soon will assume that No. 5 spot.

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It's also true that Biden, 65, is younger than many of his senatorial peers — 40 to be exact, four less than he stated.

Ranking above him are: Byrd (90), Stevens (84), Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. (84), Inouye (83), Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii (83), John Warner, R-Va. (81), Arlen Specter, R-Pa. (78), Jim Bunning, R-Ky. (76), Kennedy (76), Dick Lugar, R-Ind. (76), Domenici (76), Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. (75), Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (74), Robert Bennett, R-Utah (74), Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (74), Richard Shelby, R-Ala. (74), Carl Levin, D-Mich. (74), James Inhofe, R-Okla. (73), Herb Kohl, D-Wis. (73), Pat Roberts, R-Kan. (72), George Voinovich, R-Ohio (72), Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (72), Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. (72), John McCain, R-Ariz. (71 until Aug. 29, 2008), Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. (71), Thad Cochran, R-Miss. (70), Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. (69), Tom Harkin, D-Iowa (68), Harry Reid, D-Nev. (68), Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. (68), Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (68), Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (67), Ben Nelson, D-Neb. (67), Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (66), Max Baucus, D-Mont. (66), Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (66), Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. (66), Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. (66), Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. (66) and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. (66 as of Sept. 29, 2008).

But this is all relative, since according to the Congressional Research Service, 2008's cadre of senators is among the oldest in history with an average age of 61.7 (just younger than Biden's 65).

Since Biden was off by one rank of seniority and four elder peers, we rate this as Mostly True.


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