‘Going to need a minute’: Top Republican Mitch McConnell freezes up in public again

‘Going to need a minute’: Top Republican Mitch McConnell freezes up in public again

August 30, 2023

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Washington: Top US Republican Mitch McConnell has frozen during a public appearance for the second time in weeks, renewing questions about his health and prompting concern from fellow octogenarian Joe Biden.

McConnell, 81, was taking questions from reporters on Wednesday when he seized up for about 30 seconds, stared into space and did not respond.

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.Credit: AP

The Senate minority leader also needed the question – which was about whether he would run for office again in 2026 – repeated to him.

“Did you hear the question, senator?” a reporter asked, before an aide approached him to assist.

“All right, I’m sorry, you all, we’re going to need a minute,” the staffer said, after McConnell continued to stare silently in the distance.

The incident marks the second time in about a month that McConnell, one of the most powerful men in the US Congress, froze during a public appearance.

The last episode took place on July 26 as he was making opening remarks about an annual defence bill when his voice trailed off and he suddenly stopped talking.

He then stared into the distance for about 23 seconds until colleagues, realising something was wrong, came to his aid and escorted him away.

McConnell eventually walked back to the news conference by himself about 10 minutes later, telling reporters, through a staffer, that he was simply feeling light-headed. A similar response was given on Wednesday.

“Leader McConnell felt momentarily lightheaded and paused during his press conference today,” his spokesperson said, adding that the Kentucky Republican would be seeing a doctor before his next public event.

The latest 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 incident fuelled concerns around Capitol Hill about the potential long-term impact of such a fall and whether some of the most powerful people in Washington should remain in office.

Biden, for example, is 80 years old and will be 82 by the time of the next election.

And in Congress, the average age of members in the current US Senate is 64 years, while the average age of members in the House of Representatives is 57.9 years – but many members are over 80, including McConnell, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein (90), Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley (89) and former speaker Nancy Pelosi (83).

Last month, another awkward moment took place involving Feinstein, the oldest member of the US Congress, when she unexpectedly began reciting a speech during a vote in the Senate, and had to be told by colleagues to “just say ‘Aye’” .

The Californian has faced numerous questions about her fitness for office in recent years, with members of her own party urging her to resign after an extended absence from work following a shingles diagnosis in February.

Biden, who is an old friend of McConnell’s from their time in the Senate, said he would be calling the Republican leader this afternoon to see if he was ok.

“I just heard, literally, coming out,” the president said when asked about the matter during a press conference at the White House about the hurricane in Florida.

“And Mitch is a friend, as you know, not a joke. We have disagreements politically, but he’s a good friend, so I’m going to try to get in touch with him later this afternoon. I don’t know enough to know.”

Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene – who is aligned with Donald Trump and is not a fan of McConnell – was far less sympathetic.

She posted the video of the Senator’s latest freeze on X, citing it as an example of “people who are not fit for office”.

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; 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, whom he condemned two years ago for inciting the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

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