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Washington: Concerns about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health have reignited after the senior Republican froze for more than 20 seconds during a press conference and had to be escorted away by colleagues.
The 81-year-old was at the US Capitol building making opening remarks about an annual defence bill when his voice trailed off and he suddenly stopped talking mid-sentence.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.Credit: AP
McConnell stared into the distance for about 23 seconds until colleagues, realising something was wrong, came to his aide.
“Are you good? Mitch?” Senator Joni Ernst asked as she put her hand on McConnell’s shoulder.
Senator John Barrasso, a former physician, then came up and gripped McConnell’s arm, whispering: “Hey Mitch, anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office? Do you want to say anything else to the press?”
The Senate Minority Leader was escorted away but walked back to the news conference by himself about ten minutes later.
Asked about his health, McConnell insisted he was “fine” but did not elaborate on what had happened. Pressed on whether he could still do his job, he replied: “yeah.”
An aid later explained to reporters that he was simply feeling lightheaded.
However, the unnerving moment comes after McConnell tripped and fell at a dinner in March, which resulted in him being hospitalised for days and treated for concussion and a rib fracture.
The Kentucky Republican was at a Senate Leadership Fund event at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Washington when the incident happened, fuelling concerns around Capitol Hill about the potential long-term impact of such a fall.
McConnell – who was first elected to the Senate in 1984 – is also a child survivor of polio, which has occasionally affected his balance. But since returning to work, he has been noticeably slower and has sometimes struggled to hear questions from reporters.
Today’s events are also likely to reignite the broader debate about renewal in the US Congress, where the median age in the Senate is currently 65.3 years according to the Pew Research Centre. In the House of Representatives, the median age is 57.9 years.
The oldest member of Congress is retiring California Democrat Dianne Feinstein who is 90 and has been in cognitive decline for months and has often missed votes for judicial confirmations.
McConnell is currently serving his seventh term, but he is not up for re-election until the 2026 midterms. He was majority senate leader from 2015 to early 2021, after Donald Trump lost the presidency and the Democrats won back the Senate majority at the 2020 election.
In recent years, he has had an increasingly frosty relationship with Trump, who he condemned two years ago for inciting the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
After last year’s midterm elections, where the Democrats held back an expected “red wave” both men blamed one another for the Republican’s poorer than expected performance.
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