WASHINGTON (AP) — The attending physician to Congress said Thursday that he had cleared Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to continue with his planned schedule after evaluating an incident in which McConnell appeared to freeze up at an event in Kentucky.
But the health episode — his second in public this summer — has fueled concern among Republican senators and intense speculation about his ability to remain as leader.
McConnell, 81, remained silent for about 30 seconds during a news conference Wednesday, almost a month after a similar incident in Washington. In March, McConnell suffered a concussion and broke a rib after falling and hitting his head after a dinner event at a hotel.
Dr. Brian Monahan, the congressional physician, released a brief statement saying that he had consulted with McConnell and his neurology team and cleared the senator to continue with his schedule.
“Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration,” Monahan said.
The Senate is scheduled to convene next week after an August break.
McConnell’s office had said after the Wednesday incident that he was feeling “momentarily lightheaded.”
President Joe Biden said he spoke to McConnell on Thursday and the senator “was his old self on the telephone.”
“It’s not at all unusual to have a response that sometimes happens to Mitch when you’ve had a severe concussion,” the president said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s part of the recovery, and so I’m confident he’s going to be back to his old self.”
Still, McConnell’s health has visibly declined in recent months since the concussion in March.
The famously guarded McConnell called several of his deputies in leadership after the Wednesday health episode. But the longest-serving Senate party leader is still revealing little about his health condition, even to his closest colleagues.
That lack of information has senators guessing about not only his health but whether he will run for reelection in 2026 and who may succeed him as GOP leader. But the discussion has remained behind closed doors, for now, with most fellow Republican senators publicly supportive.
“I talked to Sen. McConnell yesterday and he seemed to be doing fine,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday after an event in his home state. “I don’t know what the underlying issue is, but we all wish him well. We know he’s had a fall, and a concussion, and I think this may be part of the recovery process from that. But I served with him for a long time now, he’s been my mentor, and basically everything I’ve learned about the United States Senate I’ve learned from him.”
Cornyn added that he expects McConnell “will continue as long as he can and wants to.”
As McConnell’s former top deputy, Cornyn is one of several senators who could be in the running to replace him. Speculation has also centered around South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who is currently McConnell’s No. 2, and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who is the No. 3 Republican and the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. McConnell called all three men on Wednesday after the episode, along with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who also serve on McConnell’s leadership team.
McConnell gave the senators reassurances about his health. A spokeswoman for Cornyn, Natalie Yezbick, said McConnell “shared that he was doing well.” A spokesman for Thune, Ryan Wrasse, said McConnell “sounded like his usual self and was in good spirits.”
Similarly, longtime McConnell friend and adviser Scott Jennings says that he spent much of August with McConnell in Kentucky and that he has kept a robust schedule, speaking frequently to the public and press. Jennings noted that McConnell is ” relatively private person when it comes to personal matters like that” and always has been.
Jennings pushed back on critics who say McConnell is too old to serve in his position.
“Two things are being conflated, his age and his recovery from this concussion,” Jennings said.