Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a longtime Republican leader whose recent health issues have raised questions about his ability to continue leading his party in the Senate, said Wednesday he has no plans to give up his his highest office or leave Congress sooner than expected.
“I’m going to finish my term as leader and I’m going to finish my term in the Senate,” McConnell, looking pale and defiant, told reporters on Capitol Hill as he answered questions outside. from the Senate Chamber.
At a packed press conference, Mr McConnell’s first since two alarming episodes in which he froze a sentence on camera as he addressed the media, the 81-year-old minority leader refused to answer questions about his health or political future, even as he appears to be leaving the door open to stepping down from his leadership post after 2024.
Yet Mr McConnell, whose seventh term in the Senate runs until 2026, would say nothing of the episodes he has experienced on camera in recent weeks that have left him staring into space without speaking, temporarily seeming paralyzed.
“Dr. Monahan has covered the whole thing,” Mr. McConnell said Wednesday, referring to a letter released by his office by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, an attending physician to Congress. Mr McConnell, who looked noticeably thinner since leaving Washington six weeks ago for summer vacation, said Dr Monahan’s brief statement that there was no evidence the senator suffered from a seizure disorder or had suffered a stroke, had been properly put to bed. any “reasonable matter”.
Several medical professionals who watched video of Mr McConnell’s episodes suggested he had had focal seizures or mini-strokes. They question Dr Monahan’s assessment that the incidents were simply part of a normal recovery from a concussion Mr McConnell suffered in March after a fall in a Washington hotel.
But on Wednesday, after three consecutive questions about his condition, Mr McConnell abruptly ended the press conference.
Known for being low-key and hard to read even in his prime, McConnell offered his colleagues a little more detail in the semi-private setting of the Senate’s weekly Republican luncheon, the first time senators Republicans had been meeting since returning to Washington amid rumors of a potential change at the top of the leadership ladder.
There, he gave his colleagues an overview of his medical evaluations and said he had received a clean bill of health, according to Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, and others present. Mr McConnell told them he only froze twice and was simply unlucky enough to do so both times on camera.
This update was enough to reassure most of his colleagues that he was healthy enough to continue leading the conference and that it was time to move on, at least for now. They asked him no follow-up questions during the private lunch and later publicly praised him for what they called a high level of transparency about his condition.
“To him, that’s unusual,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of Mr McConnell’s potential successors, said after lunch. “Senator McConnell is famous for keeping his cards close to the waistcoat; he is very good at it. Usually it serves him well, but not in this case. I think transparency serves him well.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, described his comments over lunch as a detailed report of his doctor’s assessment, and said Mr McConnell had his full support. Mr. Graham was one of 10 Republican senators who voted for a leadership change last fall, backing an unsuccessful challenge to Mr. McConnell by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.
Indiana Senator Todd Young said the doctor’s note reassured him that Mr McConnell was in ‘good health’, although he reported some uncertainty about how long this would continue .
“I hope Senator McConnell will continue to lead our conference in the weeks, months, and even years to come,” Young said. “But if Republicans have to choose another leader, I’m confident we’ll adopt a positive leadership that places great importance on national security issues.”
Others were more skeptical of Mr McConnell going anywhere in the near future.
“It will happen when you see donkeys flying,” Mr Kennedy said.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ophthalmologist, was one of the few Republicans on Capitol Hill to raise an eyebrow at Dr. Monahan’s brief and carefully worded statements regarding the minority leader’s health, both of which suggest dehydration could have played a role.
“I don’t question his ability to serve in the Senate,” Mr. Paul said of Mr. McConnell. “My question is about the diagnosis. I think when misinformation is spread like “just dehydration” it leads to further guesswork, well, maybe there’s something else we’re not saying.
Kayla Guo contributed reports.