Mitch McConnell suddenly froze and struggled to speak at a press event with reporters on Wednesday, the second such incident in about a month.
It initially seemed that the Senate minority leader did not hear the question when reporters asked about his reelection plans at an event in Covington, Kentucky. But then he froze for about 30 seconds, and did respond to the question as aides intervened.
A McConnell spokesman said he merely “paused” because was “lightheaded”:
McConnell experienced a similar incident on July 26, when he suddenly stopped speaking and froze during Senate Republicans’ weekly press conference. The 81-year-old senator was escorted away from the lectern, but later returned and took questions from reporters.
The July incident occurred as McConnell was making his opening remarks about the annual defense-authorization bill. He said there had “been good bipartisan cooperation, and a string of …” then trailed off and stared straight ahead for more than 20 seconds.
“Are you good, Mitch?” asked Senator Joni Ernst.
“Anything else you want to say, or should we just go back to your office?” asked Senator John Barrasso, who was an orthopedic surgeon before entering Congress, while grabbing McConnell’s arm. “Do you want to say anything else to the press?” he repeated.
McConnell mouthed “no” and Barasso and aides escorted him away as Senator John Thune continued the press conference.
Ernst quickly made the sign of the sign of the cross, as if she was praying for McConnell, as NBC News noted.
The minority leader walked back to the press conference a few minutes later on his own. CNN’s Manu Raju asked if the apparent medical incident was related to the concussion McConnell suffered following a fall in March.
“I’m fine,” McConnell replied.
Later a McConnell aide said the minority leader “felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment. He came back to handle Q&A, which as everyone observed was sharp.”
Having overcome polio as a child, his gait has always been a bit stilted, but it has been visibly more cautious. On multiple occasions, he has not been able to hear questions that reporters have asked him. At one point, during an early June news conference, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had to lean in and explain to McConnell what the question was.
After the press conference, Barrasso told reporters that he’s been “concerned since the first time — since he was injured a number of months ago … I continue to be concerned.”
Shortly after the July incident McConnell said he’s gotten a call from Joe Biden, and joked about the president tripping over a sandbag in June.
“The president called to check on me. I told him I got sandbagged,” McConnell told reporters.
After the July incident, reporters revealed that it wasn’t the only health scare McConnell had experienced this year. In February, McConnell tripped and fell when meeting with the Finnish president in Helsinki, according to CNN. The incident, which was not reported at the time, occurred days before the fall that led to his hospitalization in March. On July 14, the minority leader tripped and fell while disembarking from a plane at Ronald Reagan International Airport, according to NBC News. A source said he had a “face plant” but wasn’t seriously hurt. As a polio survivor McConnell has always had some difficulty with stairs and other obstacles, and recently he has been using a wheelchair as a precaution to navigate crowded airports.
An anonymous Republican senator told NBC News in July that McConnell is now “definitely slower with his gait,” now, but he’s guarded about the extent of his health issues. In closed-door GOP meetings, “he doesn’t address it,” the senator said.
This post was updated after McConnell froze again on August 30.
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