Top US Senate Republican Mitch McConnell freezes up, leaves press conference

WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) – Top U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell froze up for about 21 seconds while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, walking away only to return 12 minutes later to say he was “fine.”

The 81-year-old Kentucky lawmaker began a regular scheduled press conference on Wednesday by talking about bipartisan cooperation on a massive defense funding bill only to freeze up for 21 seconds, standing still and staring straight ahead before his colleagues leaned in to ask if he was well.

“Are you OK, Mitch? Anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office?” Senator John Barrasso asked McConnell, the longest-serving Senate party leader in history, before McConnell turned and walked away with the help of Barrasso, a physician.

McConnell, the minority leader, rejoined the press conference about 12 minutes later, saying, “I’m fine” and answering reporters’ questions on other topics.

He batted away a question about who might succeed him in leadership.

A McConnell aide said that the senator had felt light-headed.

McConnell, whose six-year term runs through 2026, had been sidelined from the Senate earlier this year after he tripped at a Washington dinner on March 8 and was admitted to a hospital for treatment of a concussion. He also suffered a minor rib fracture and was later moved to a rehabilitation facility. He returned to the Senate in April.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses reporters following the Senate Republicans weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo

Many top figures in Washington are of advanced age, with President Joe Biden running for reelection at 80 and the average age in the Senate above 64.

Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein was sidelined for months this year after a bout of shingles that caused complications including encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can cause facial paralysis.

Biden, the oldest person to ever occupy the Oval Office, last month tripped and fell during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, but got up quickly and walked back to his seat.

A majority of Americans, some 61%, told a November Reuters/Ipsos poll that they were very or somewhat concerned that members of Congress are too old to represent the American people.

Barrasso said that he had been concerned about McConnell since his fall.

“I’ve been concerned since he was injured a number of months ago,” said Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I continue to be concerned.”

McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said, “I always wish Leader McConnell well.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Moira Warburton and Josephine Walker; Writing by Katharine Jackson; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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