As questions swirl about the health of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) after a pair of scary episodes where he froze mid-press conference, only a single GOP lawmaker has called for the 81-year-old to go: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
Greene tweeted a video of McConnell’s latest freeze-up on Wednesday—where he stared silently forward for 30 seconds while taking questions—and wrote, “Severe aging health issues and/or mental health incompetence in our nation’s leaders MUST be addressed.”
She slammed those close to McConnell, writing that his staff and loved ones “should be ashamed of themselves” for allowing him to keep working.
“We are talking about our country’s national security and it’s all at stake,” she said, adding that she’d like to see the 25th Amendment invoked—despite the amendment only applying to presidential succession in instances of death or disability.
Dr. Brian Monahan, the physician for the U.S. Congress, wrote in a letter on Thursday that he “conferred” with McConnell’s neurology team and determined he’s “medically cleared” to continue working, adding that “occasional lightheadedness” is common for people recovering from a concussion, as McConnell is.
Three GOP lawmakers who saw or spoke with McConnell after Wednesday’s incident downplayed any health concerns, saying he appeared to be his normal self. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) said he was “sharp” and “engaging” at an evening fundraiser, while Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) office told CNN he “sounded fine” when they spoke, and the office of John Thune (R-SD) said McConnell “sounded like his usual self and was in good spirits.” Other U.S. lawmakers remained mostly mum, save for a few who made statements wishing McConnell well.
It’s an unspoken rule among senators to not call for the resignation of aging or ailing colleagues—largely so it doesn’t come back to bite them should they find themselves in a similar situation. The practice has seemingly kept even Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) relatively silent, despite him being arguably McConnell’s biggest rival on the right—having tried and failed to unseat him from Senate leadership last year.
“I hope he is completely healthy and comes back with all of us on Tuesday and continues to be an active senator and Republican leader,” Scott told CBS on Wednesday. “My expectation is he’ll come back healthy and we’re all going to work together.”
Equally mum on McConnell’s health is the senator himself. Sources told POLITICO that even McConnell’s inner circle is in the dark about what may be wrong.
McConnell, the longest-serving Republican Senate leader in U.S. history, was hospitalized in March after he fell and suffered a concussion, which his team played down. After he froze for more than 30 seconds in the middle of a press conference in July, his aides said he was just “dehydrated,” despite some doctors, who aren’t involved in his care, speculating he was having small seizures.
After Wednesday’s scare, his team merely said he felt “lightheaded” but that he’d visit a physician soon “as a prudential measure.”
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) was the only House representative to say McConnell’s latest scare should be enough for him to resign—just as the repeated absences and recent hospitalization of 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) should have her sidelined as well.
Like McConnell, Feinstein hasn’t been transparent about her health, sometimes disappearing for weeks without publicly stating a reason. A growing number of House Democrats have called for her to resign, including Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Phillips.
“For goodness sake, the family, friends, and staff of Senators Feinstein and McConnell are doing them and our country a tremendous disservice,” Phillips tweeted. “It’s time for term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court, and some basic human decency.”
While both troubling, McConnell’s apparent health scares are yet to impede on his attendance in Congress and willingness to travel for events—something his team has repeated every chance they get. The same isn’t true of Feinstein, who hampered Democrats’ ability to push nominations through the Judiciary Committee during her three-month absence from Washington.
McConnell has said he wants to remain in Republican leadership through the end of this congressional session, but it’s unclear if he’ll run for leader of the next Congress next fall. His Senate term doesn’t end until 2027, and he told reporters in July that he plans to serve it in its entirety.
His first freeze-up came right before senators left Washington for a five-week recess, giving him time to stay mostly out of public view. That’s likely to change once the Senate returns to session next week, however, when McConnell will be integral in getting a budget approved and will have to regularly field questions from reporters.
While he did not outright criticize McConnell, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) called on him to be more transparent about his health in July, saying that he isn’t just accountable to people in Kentucky, but Republicans nationwide.
“Obviously his first responsibility is to the voters of Kentucky,” Cramer said. “But once you become the leader, your responsibilities obviously are with other constituents, mainly, at least in his case, 48 of his closest friends…Clearly there’s a greater responsibility for transparency.”