By Moira Warburton
(Reuters) -Top U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell froze up for more than 30 seconds on Wednesday during a public appearance before he was escorted away, the second such incident in little more than a month, a clip from an NBC News affiliate showed.
McConnell, 81, was responding to questions from reporters after an event with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Covington when he froze up, staring into space and not responding to reporters and others nearby.
The incident raised fresh questions among Republican and Democratic members of Congress about some of their aging colleagues.
After being approached by a second person, McConnell resumed speaking but needed reporters' questions repeated to him and only answered two more questions. The longest-serving Senate party leader in history, McConnell's voice was shaky and quiet.
He said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, was "far and away the best candidate" for governor, and declined to say whether he would support former President Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president before walking away with a staffer.
A McConnell aide said the senator would be consulting with a physician prior to his next public event. The Senate is due to reconvene on Tuesday after a five week-long summer recess.
"Leader McConnell felt momentarily lightheaded and paused during his press conference today," McConnell's spokesperson said.
The incident was similar to one that took place in the U.S. Capitol on July 26, when McConnell froze in the middle of a press conference and had to be led away, returning several minutes later to finish taking questions.
After that incident, a McConnell aide said the senator had felt light-headed. Two days later, a spokesperson said that McConnell planned to remain in his leadership post through the 2024 election.
McConnell froze on Wednesday after being asked whether he intended to run again in 2026, when his six-year term is up.
McConnell had been sidelined from the Senate after he tripped at a Washington dinner on March 8 and was admitted to a hospital for treatment of a concussion. He also suffered a minor rib fracture and was later moved to a rehabilitation facility. He returned to the Senate in April.
Many top figures in Washington are of advanced age, with President Joe Biden running for reelection at 80 and the average age in the Senate above 64.
Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, was sidelined for months this year after a bout of shingles that caused complications including encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can cause facial paralysis.
A majority of Americans, some 61%, told a November Reuters/Ipsos poll that they were very or somewhat concerned that members of Congress are too old to represent the American people. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, is 77.
Criticism of aging politicians most often comes from the opposite political party, but Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene posted the McConnell video on X, formerly Twitter, citing it as an example of "people who are not fit for office."
Democratic Representative Dean Phillips said the family, friends, and staff of Senators Feinstein and McConnell were doing them and the country a disservice, posting on X that "it's time for term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court."
McConnell has served as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2021 and as Senate minority leader since then. Democrats, including three independents who vote with them, currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, when all senators are present.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh, Makini Brice and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)