Capitol doctor clears McConnell medically, health scare prompts fresh questions about his leadership


Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has been medically cleared to resume his schedule, a U.S. Capitol doctor said Thursday, after he publicly froze for the second time in as many months.

The statement comes as McConnell moves behind the scenes to reassure allies and donors that he can do his job, even as questions persist about how long the 81-year-old Kentuckian will last as Republican party chairman.

“I have consulted with Leader McConnell and advised his neurology team. After evaluating yesterday’s incident, I have informed Leader McConnell that he is medically clear to continue his schedule as planned,” Capitol attending physician Dr. Brian Monahan said in a statement released by McConnell’s office.

“It’s not unusual to have an occasional light-headedness in concussion recovery and can be expected as a result of dehydration,” Monahan said. McConnell’s office previously attributed his frostbite to a mild headache and dehydration.

McConnell, who has served 16 years as GOP leader, the longest of any Senate leader in history, has made it clear repeatedly — his confidants have not said — that he will stay in his job until the end of next year, when the 118th Congress ends. His recent health changes after the scare.

But McConnell has consistently sidestepped questions about whether he will run for president in the next Congress, which begins in 2025. And there is some initial chatter among a few Republicans. party leadership after McConnell’s latest incident, says a person familiar with the matter.

No meeting has been called, and it’s unclear if one will happen. It only takes five GOP senators to call a meeting, and then at that point it’s the GOP conference chairman, Sen. Will be programmed by John Barrasso. Even if they hold a meeting, there is no mechanism to force a vote on the party leadership. That won’t happen until after the 2024 election. But such a meeting would focus more on McConnell’s health.

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With uncertainty over whether Republicans will force such a meeting, the Senate GOP caucus is set to meet for its regular weekly session next Wednesday, giving the GOP leader a chance to address his caucus on the subject for the first time.

Following a concussion after a fall and hitting his head in March, along with his two public freezes, Republican senators and aides told CNN they doubt he’ll ever return to work — the first to open up the GOP leadership role. Since McConnell took over in 2007.

Neglecting to focus on his health, McConnell has so far refused to publicly disclose the cause of two separate freezes of about 30 seconds this summer — the latest Wednesday in Kentucky, Kentucky — except that his aides said he felt “light-headed” and that he would see a doctor.

The topic did not come up when the GOP leader later attended a fundraiser Wednesday for Rep. Jim Banks, who is running for Senate in Indiana. Multiple sources said McConnell had not discussed her viral moment earlier in the day.

But two attendees told CNN that he engaged with the crowd and acted casually, assuring donors and allies that he could get the job done. Asked about McConnell, Banks said the Republican leader was “sharp” and “engaging” and “very dialed in and closely following my race.”

“Tough as nails,” another participant said when describing McConnell’s demeanor.

President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday that he had spoken with McConnell earlier in the day.

“You know, he was old on the phone and had a little understanding of dealing with neurosurgeons and people,” Biden said. “One of the leading ladies on my staff’s husband is also a neurosurgeon. It’s not uncommon to respond … When you have a severe concussion, that’s part of the recovery. So I’m sure he’ll be back to normal.

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Following Wednesday’s episode, McConnell called several GOP senators — including his potential successors — to tell them he was fine.

Ryan Wrasse, a spokesman for Senate GOP Whip John Thune, who spoke with the GOP leader, said, “The leader was his usual self and he was in good spirits.”

Sen. Kelly Moore, a spokeswoman for Shelley Moore Capito, confirmed that McConnell spoke with the West Virginia Republican, a member of her leadership team.

“Sen. “Capito said the president is doing well and looks forward to seeing him when the Senate returns on Tuesday,” Capito’s spokesman said.

McConnell’s latest freeze came before senators went on a five-week August recess. Some at the time asked for more information about McConnell’s health — questions that will intensify when they return to session next week.

“Obviously his first responsibility is to the voters of Kentucky,” said North Dakota’s GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer told CNN in July. “But once you become leader, your responsibilities are obviously to the other members, mainly, at least in his case, his 48 closest friends.”

Cramer said at the time that McConnell “needs to let us know if something big is going on,” adding: “Clearly there is a greater responsibility for transparency.”

Thune and Barasso and Sen. John Cornyn was seen as McConnell’s successor, but they continued to support him despite his health scare.

Before being asked if he was ready to run for president, Cornyn said: “Those elections don’t happen until November 2024. So the short answer is, there’s nothing ready.”

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