In a new letter on Tuesday, the attending physician of Congress said that upon examination of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after he appeared to freeze while speaking to reporters last week, the Kentucky Republican did not suffer a stroke or a seizure.
The letter comes amid questions about McConnell's health and fitness to serve after the second such incident in as many months.
Speaking to reporters in his home state of Kentucky last week, McConnell, 81, appeared to begin answering a question from a reporter about if he will seek reelection in 2026 before pausing. He was unresponsive for several seconds before aides stepped in to check on him. He later resumed speaking to reporters, though he did not answer the initial question.
The Kentucky Republican’s office chalked it up to him feeling “momentarily lightheaded,” and Congress’ attending physician cleared him to resume his schedule, noting that such a symptom is “not uncommon” amid concussion recovery, which he suffered in March after falling at a Washington hotel.
On Tuesday, Dr. Brian Monahan, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress sent a letter to McConnell saying that his examination of the Republican leader following last week's incident showed "no evidence" that he has "a seizure disorder" or that he "experienced a stroke, TIA (a transient ischemic attack), or movement disorder such as Parkinson's disease."
McConnell briefly addressed the incident in remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
"One particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week, but I assure you August was a busy and productive month for me and my staff," the Kentucky Republican said.
But his comments are unlikely to temper questions after last week’s incident, the second in as many months – McConnell similarly stopped speaking mid-sentence and appeared to freeze up while conducting a weekly Senate GOP leadership press conference in July.
According to a report from Politico, some Republican senators are considering holding a special meeting to discuss the future of the party’s leadership in the upper chamber.
McConnell has faced criticism for not being more forthcoming while avoiding taking direct questions about his health.
Casey Burgat, the director of the Legislative Affairs program at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, said that there's a "fine line" between privacy concerns as McConnell sorts out medical concerns and accountability to the voters.
"He's an elected official and a very, very powerful one at that," Burgat told Spectrum News. "So there's a reasonable case to make that not only do his voters have the right to know, but do we as Americans have a right to know about the capacity of our leaders?"
“All of the questions that we have about him and his capacity, the only way to get them directly is to watch him do his job," Burgat added.
McConnell already faced at least one call from an elected Republican official to step down, albeit not one in his conference. House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the Kentucky Republican unfit for office – comparing him to President Joe Biden, 80, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, and Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, who suffered a stroke prior to his election last year.
“Severe aging health issues and/or mental health incompetence in our nation’s leaders MUST be addressed,” Greene wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, later adding of the officials she mentioned: “These politician’s [sic] staff and family members should be ashamed of themselves by enabling and allowing their loved ones to remain in office all to hold power. We are talking about our country’s national security and it’s all at stake! 25th amendment and other measures need to be on the table.”
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, a 2024 Republican presidential hopeful who has called for competency tests for older elected officials, called McConnell’s freeze-up “sad.”
“Right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country,” she told Fox News in an interview. “Mitch McConnell has done some great things and he deserves credit. But you have to know when to leave.”
In a separate interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Haley doubled down, comparing McConnell to other older lawmakers, like Feinstein and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 83, who stepped down from her leadership position last year.
“At what point do they get it's time to leave?” she asked. “They need to let a younger generation take over. We want to go and start working for our kids to make sure we have a strong national security, to make sure we have a stronger economic policy, to make sure that America is safe. And we can't do that if these individuals refuse to give up power. This is not just a Republican or Democrat problem. This is a congressional problem. And they've got to know when to leave.”
Though a rivalry has emerged between Haley and fellow 2024 candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, the two of them found some consensus on this issue; the 38-year-old entrepreneur said Friday he believed it’d be “most prudent” if McConnell “stepped aside.”
But publicly, Senate Republicans are speaking out about the Kentucky GOP leader, defending his ability to lead the party.
On Sunday, Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he spoke with McConnell the day prior and said that the Kentucky Republican “was in good shape” and “felt good” when they chatted.
Rounds went on to praise Dr. Monahan, saying that “if he says that Mitch is ready to go, then Mitch is ready to go.”
“But Mitch will come back in front of us, and he will discuss it with the entire team,” Rounds continued. “He's been busy. He's been working around his own state. But he's also been doing the fundraising that is required of a leader, and I think that's been a big job for him as well during this break.”
“Mitch is sharp, and he is shrewd,” Rounds added. “He understands what needs to be done. I will leave it up to him as to how he wants to discuss that with American public. But there's no doubt in my mind that he is perfectly capable of continuing on at this stage of the game.”
Maine Sen. Susan Collins wrote on social media last week that McConnell called her to discuss Senate business, adding: “He is fully prepared to continue leading our caucus when the Senate resumes session on Tuesday.”
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who mounted an unsuccessful challenge to McConnell’s leadership late last year, told CBS News last week that he “expects” that the Kentucky Republican will “continue to be Republican leader through this term.”
“My belief is he's going to come back he's gonna work hard,” Scott said at the time.
President Joe Biden, who worked alongside McConnell in the Senate for decades, said he was “confident” the longtime GOP leader is “going to be back to his normal self.”
“It’s not at all unusual to have a response like sometimes happens to Mitch when you’ve had a severe concussion,” Biden said last week. “It’s part of the recovery.”
But age and the health of politicians have been top of mind on Capitol Hill this year, and will no doubt continue into the presidential election next year. President Biden’s likely Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump, is just a few years younger than him at 77.
A recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that a majority of Americans believe Biden (77%) and Trump (51%) are too old to serve another term as president.
“Part of this larger story of aging American leaders are they up to the task,” said Peter Loge, Founding Director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication. “And that unfairly probably bundles a whole lot of different people with a whole lot of different health issues into the same basket.”