Sen. Mitch McConnell said he would stay on as Senate minority leader and finish out his term in Congress during his first press conference Wednesday after he froze in front of reporters last week for the second time in less than two months.
“I have no announcements to make on that subject,” McConnell said when asked if he would retire any time soon, adding “I am going to finish my term as leader, and I’m going to finish my Senate term,” which expires at the end of 2026; his term as Senate minority leader expires at the end of 2024.
When asked to explain the source of the freeze-ups, McConnell pointed to statements from congressional doctor Brian Monahan, who backed up McConnell’s aides’ explanation that the episodes were bouts of lightheadedness that could be a result of a concussion he incurred in March, or possible dehydration, and dismissed concerns that McConnell may have experienced mini-seizures or strokes in front of cameras.
“I don’t have anything to add to it, and I think it should answer any reasonable questions,” McConnell said about Monahan’s statements, before ending the press conference after about 90 seconds at the podium.
McConnell spoke to reporters Wednesday during a routine press conference following a Senate GOP lunch meeting—his first media briefing after he froze in front of reporters for approximately 30 seconds during a press conference in Kentucky last week, following a similar episode during a Capitol press conference in July.
During the Senate lunch meeting, McConnell assured senators his mental faculties were not impaired and that the two episodes marked the only times he has experienced the freeze-ups, according to CNN.
Republican senators who spoke to reporters following the meeting said they believed the explanation McConnell gave was sufficient—Sen. Ron Johnson (Wisc.) said McConnell went into “great detail” and said he is “perfectly capable” to continue as leader, CNN reported, while Sen. Todd Young (Ind.) told the network he was “satisfied” with the discussion.
During a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell briefly addressed last week’s episodes, referring to it as “one particular moment during [his] time back home” that “has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week,” while reassuring senators he was “busy and productive” in Kentucky during the recess.
“What Dr. Monahan’s report addressed was concerns people might have if some things that happened to me did happen to me. Well, they didn’t, and really I have nothing to add to that. I think he pretty well covered the subject,” McConnell said, dismissing concerns he had mini-strokes or seizures.
McConnell froze for approximately 30 seconds at a news conference last week while responding to a question about running for reelection. The episode followed a similar incident in July when he froze for approximately 19 seconds in front of reporters in Washington, D.C. His aides attributed both situations to bouts of lightheadedness, a justification Monahan reiterated in a statement last week after conferring with McConnell’s neurology team. Monahan said the incidents could be the result of dehydration or the March concussion, which led to a six-week absence from the Senate—an analysis seven neurologists interviewed by the New York Times disputed last week, with several telling the paper his symptoms mirrored those of mini-strokes or seizures. In a subsequent statement on Tuesday, Monahan said McConnell underwent a “comprehensive neurology assessment” that showed no signs of seizures or strokes.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is also an eye doctor, called for more transparency surrounding McConnell’s health and questioned Monahan’s assessment in interviews this week. “When you get dehydrated, you don’t have moments when your eyes look in the distance with a vacant look & you’re sort of basically unconscious with your eyes open,” Paul said, according to Politico, adding “that’s not a symptom of dehydration.” Paul on Wednesday said that “25% of people will have seizures” after a traumatic brain injury, but the vast majority will not show signs of a seizure disorder on an electroencephalogram (EEG), one of the tests Monahan said McConnell underwent. Paul, however, said his assessment has “nothing to do with his fitness to serve and whether he’s doing a good or bad job.”
Despite questions about McConnell’s ability to continue serving as minority leader—including a call for him to step down from the editors at the National Review—no senators have publicly called for his resignation, and most have expressed confidence in his leadership ability in the wake of the incidents. “Mitch was strong and clear, and I am confident in his ability to lead our conference. He has my full support,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted Wednesday following the Senate GOP luncheon.
No Evidence McConnell Has ‘Seizure Disorder’ Or ‘Experienced Stroke,’ Capitol Doctor Says After Tests (Forbes)
Neurologists Suggest McConnell Suffered Seizures—Disputing ‘Lightheadedness’ Claims—Report Says (Forbes)
Capitol Doctor Calls McConnell ‘Medically Clear’ And Biden Defends Him After Latest Freeze-Up—As Calls For Resignation Grow (Forbes)