After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze up at a press conference earlier this week, for the second time in recent months, the Capitol’s attending physician said the Kentucky Republican was “medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned.”
“Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration,” wrote Dr. Brian Monahan in a short statement, saying he consulted with McConnell and also “conferred with his neurology team.”
Monahan was referring to a concussion and fractured rib the 81-year-old senator suffered following a fall at a Washington, D.C., hotel earlier this year. McConnell returned to work in April after a six-week absence and inpatient physical therapy but froze during a press conference in July. A McConnell aide told Yahoo News that the senator “felt light-headed” and stepped away for a moment. A similar incident happened during an event in Kentucky on Wednesday.
While Monahan gave McConnell’s health his seal of approval, his assessment has no bearing on whether McConnell can continue to serve. Even if Monahan didn’t grant his approval, there would be limited formal mechanisms to replace the GOP leader because the concept of being “medically cleared” is not written into the rules of the Senate.
Dealing with ailing members is something that both parties have faced in recent years.
Read more from Yahoo News: Mitch McConnell: The 3 Republicans who are likeliest to succeed him
The fall earlier this year and subsequent freezing at press conferences this summer are only the latest health issues for McConnell, who has served in the Senate since 1985 and has been the chamber’s Republican leader since 2007. McConnell recovered from polio as a child and suffered a fall in 2019 that fractured his shoulder. In 2020, the senator faced questions about his health when photos showed his hands appearing dark blue. McConnell said he was “fine” but did not explain the discoloration.
After the first incident earlier this summer, McConnell’s office said he planned to serve out the rest of his term as leader, but the latest health scare has raised further concerns among Republicans despite his immediate reassurances.
“If we’re going to stick with him, he kinda owes it to us to tell us what’s going on,” an anonymous GOP aide from an office allied with McConnell told Politico.
McConnell could step down from his leadership role and allow a replacement to be selected, but he would retain his seat in the Senate unless he chose to resign. Any senator can be expelled with a two-thirds vote from their colleagues, but that’s not a remote possibility for McConnell. His full term runs through 2026 and he has not said if he will seek reelection at this time.
Read more from Yahoo News: Why Republicans Are About to Throw Mitch McConnell to the Wolves, via the New Republic
Recent health issues in the Senate
Prior to McConnell’s episodes, the highest-profile health issues in the Senate this year revolved around 90-year-old Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat from California. Feinstein was away from the Senate for months for what her office initially said was recovery from shingles, before saying her condition was more severe than initially stated.
While Feinstein had already said she wasn’t running for reelection next year, there were numerous calls for her to resign and allow Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a replacement. However, because Feinstein holds a position on the powerful Judiciary Committee and Republicans would have to help Democrats name a replacement, other Democrats — including Hillary Clinton — have argued that her staying on through the end of her term is most beneficial for the party.
In 2017, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., initially resisted calls to retire despite reports that the 79-year-old looked frail and disoriented while being confused on which way to vote. The following year, Cochran announced he would resign, and he died in 2019.
Earlier this year, Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., stepped away to seek treatment for clinical depression. The freshman official returned to the job in April following a two-month absence that stemmed from a stroke he suffered in May 2022, just before the primary.
While Fetterman has faced criticism for seeking and holding office while recovering, many have lauded him for being open about issues that affect millions of Americans. Last year, Democratic Sens. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland also suffered strokes but have since returned to office.