Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday appeared briefly unable to respond to reporters’ questions at a press event, marking the second time in weeks that the Republican leader has abruptly stopped speaking and required help from people around him.
McConnell, 81, initially seemed to struggle to hear when asked at an event in Covington, Kentucky, about his views on running for reelection.
But the senator then froze at the lectern and did not speak for about 30 seconds. He did not appear to immediately respond when a member of his staff approached him to ask if he had heard the question.
“All right, I’m sorry, you all. We’re going to need a minute,” the aide said during that interval.
McConnell then appeared to signal he was ready to receive another question. He was asked about Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is running for governor.
After his aide loudly repeated the question into his ear, McConnell said, “I think the governor’s race is going to be very close,” with his voice lowering in volume as he finished his reply.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media following the weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images
He brushed off a final question about former President Donald Trump’s latest indictment in Georgia before being led away from the lectern.
McConnell suffered a similar episode July 26 in Washington, D.C., where he froze and was briefly unable to speak at a press conference.
In that case, McConnell’s fellow senators rushed in to help him, and after a few minutes he returned to the lectern and continued speaking to reporters.
At the time, McConnell dismissed questions about whether the health scare was in any way connected to a concussion he suffered earlier this year when he fell at a political fundraiser.
Spokesmen for McConnell did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the latest incident.
Fresh questions about McConnell’s health arise at an especially fraught moment for Republicans in Congress, who hold a narrow majority in the House and 49 seats in the Senate, one shy of a majority.
On Tuesday, Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. The Louisiana lawmaker called the disease “very treatable” and promised he would return to Washington, though he did not say precisely when.
Congress is scheduled to return to session in September after a monthlong recess, with the Senate back in session Sept. 5 and the House on Sept. 12.
President Joe Biden had wished McConnell well after his fall in March, and the senator said the president had called him up following his verbal freeze in July. “I told him I got sandbagged,” McConnell said he told the president.
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she had not spoken to Biden about McConnell’s latest incident. But “clearly we wish him well and a speedy recovery,” Jean-Pierre added.
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