McConnell seeks to calm GOP about his health  

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sought to address concerns about his health at a closed-door lunch meeting of the Senate Republican conference Wednesday, acknowledging to his fellow senators he’s still recovering from the concussion he suffered in March that sent him to the hospital. 

“I’m not a 25-year-old quarterback,” the 81-year-old senator quipped to colleagues at the meeting, saying it’s taken time to bounce back from the blow to the head he suffered in March when he tripped at a private dinner event, said a GOP senator who heard the remark. 

McConnell addressed speculation about his health at the start of the weekly lunch meeting, summarizing to colleagues the findings of his medical team and the Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan.  

The GOP leader noted Monahan’s conclusion that there was “no evidence” he had a seizure disorder, experienced a stroke or suffered from a neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s. 

“Sen. McConnell announced basically what Dr. Monahan said in his letter yesterday. I think that was pretty much the end of it. There weren’t any questions,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), describing the lunch. 

“Reading Dr. Monahan’s letter and listening to Sen. McConnell, it sounds like he’s just having a little bit of a bumpy recovery from the concussion, which is not unusual,” Cornyn added. “He’s back in the saddle.”  

McConnell, who insisted in July he was “fine” when asked if his momentary freeze before television cameras at the Capitol was related to his concussion, on Wednesday acknowledged recovering from the injury has taken time.   

“I think what he’s saying is most people our age” take longer to recover from getting “knocked in the head” compared to a 25-year-old quarterback, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about McConnell’s comments at lunch.  

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a physician who has delivered more than 5,000 babies in his career, said he accepted Monahan’s medical findings as reassuring. 

“I thought he looked better today than he did before we left,” he said McConnell. “We’re concerned about his health, but I take Dr. Monahan at his word that he had conferred with [McConnell’s] neurologists who had seen his EEG, his MRI, his lab work and they all checked out.” 

Marshall said McConnell “had a little problem recovering, perhaps, from his concussion” but is showing improvement.  

Paul is a skeptic

The loudest skepticism about the Capitol’s attending physician’s findings came from McConnell’s home-state colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon.  

He panned Monahan’s suggestion last week that McConnell’s two episodes of freezing at news conferences in Washington and Kentucky may have been caused by dehydration.  

“When you get dehydrated you don’t have moments where your eyes look in the distance with a vacant look and you’re sort of basically unconscious with your eyes open. That is not a symptom of dehydration,” Paul told The Hill on Wednesday morning.   

The Kentucky senator also questioned Monahan’s attempt to rule out the possibility that McConnell might be suffering from a seizure disorder based on an electroencephalogram (EEG) test.

“The bottom line is, it is a medical mistake to say that someone doesn’t have a seizure disorder because they have a normal EEG,” he said.

But Paul said he saw no reason for McConnell to step down from the top leadership job, observing he “had no indication” the leader’s medical issues have “affected him in any way that prevented him from being in leadership.”

Projecting strength

McConnell sought to project strength Wednesday, telling reporters at a press conference after the weekly Republican lunch that he plans to fulfill his term as Senate Republican leader, which runs through the 2024 election, and complete his seventh Senate term, which runs through 2026.  

When asked about what may be causing him to freeze in front of cameras, he pointed to Monahan’s letter.  

“I think Dr. Monahan covered the subject fully. You’ve had a chance to read it. I don’t have anything to add to it, and I think it should answer any reasonable question,” he said.    

No Republican senator has publicly called for McConnell to step down from the leadership, a reflection that he continues to have strong support within his conference. 

Two outside political groups aligned with McConnell — the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation — announced Wednesday they raised a combined $49 million in August to help Senate Republicans regain the majority.  

Marshall said no one else in the Senate GOP conference can match McConnell’s fundraising firepower, which he suggested is a major reason the veteran Kentucky senator should remain in the top leadership job.  

“Mentally, he’s locked in. He raised $49 million last month. When someone else raises $49 million in a month, raise your hand,” he said.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 member of the Senate GOP leadership, said the discussion about McConnell’s health at the Wednesday lunch has settled the issue within the Republican conference for the time being. 

A Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the private meeting said there was an acknowledgment among GOP senators that the concussion McConnell suffered in March “hit him hard.”  

A second Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss how McConnell’s health problems will affect his ability to continue serving as leader said that colleagues are ready to move on as long as the GOP leader doesn’t have a health relapse.   

“My impression is if this continues, it’s a problem,” the senator said. “At some point in time, there’s a tipping point.” 

The senator warned that if McConnell freezes again in the middle of a press conference, it “would not be helpful,” noting “there’s set of my colleagues who want a new leader anyway.”  

But so far, the two leading candidates to replace McConnell as leader, Thune and Cornyn, say they will support him as long as he wants to serve as leader and remains healthy enough to do the job. 

“He has my full support and he’ll have the support of the conference,” Thune said Tuesday.  

Cornyn made a similar assurance: “I’ve told Sen. McConnell I’m going to support him as long as he wants to do the job and can do the job.”  

Tags Brian Monahan John Cornyn John Thune Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Roger Marshall