McConnell Health Scares Raise Questions About the Future of His Leadership

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze up for more than 30 seconds during a news conference Wednesday for the second time in the last few weeks.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze up for more than 30 seconds during a news conference Wednesday for the second time in the last few weeks.

  • The two incidents, coming on the heels of other health episodes earlier this year, have raised questions about how long the octogenarian senator can continue in his post. McConnell has led Senate Republicans since 2007, and is the longest serving party leader in Senate history.
  • McConnell’s freeze on Wednesday was like another incident in July at a Capitol news conference. Previously, the top Senate Republican broke a rib and suffered from a concussion in March after falling and hitting his head at hotel.
  • Wednesday’s health episode came after McConnell delivered a 20-minute speech at an event in Kentucky, and he quickly returned to public events afterwards. McConnell survived polio in early childhood, which contributes to his relatively slow gait and makes it difficult to climb stairs.
  • Capitol physician Brian Monahan said in a statement that after consulting with McConnell and his neurology team that the Senator from Kentucky is “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.”
  • McConnell did not make any public comments about his health and his office has been generally tight-lipped about the senator’s health.
  • President Joe Biden said he spoke on the phone with McConnell and he sounded like “his old self.” Biden suggested the incidents were a normal side effect of McConnell’s March concussion and said he had no concerns about McConnell remaining in leadership.
  • Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who has called for mental competency tests for all politicians older than 75, said the latest incident demonstrates that despite doing “great things,” that he “deserves credit” for, “you have to know when to leave.”
  • “No one should feel good about seeing that, any more than we should feel good about seeing Dianne Feinstein, any more than we should feel good about a lot of what’s happening or seeing Joe Biden’s decline,” said Haley, the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor. “What I will say is, right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • Politico reported a “handful” of Republican senators are debating whether to force an internal debate on the future of McConnell’s leadership. It only takes five senators to force a special meeting.
  • The New York Times profiled the “three Johns,” the three men considered McConnell’s most likely successors as Senate GOP Leader. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is the current Minority Whip, the No. 2 Republican. Texas Sen. John Cornyn previously served as whip and led the Senate GOP’s campaign arm. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming is the No. 3 Senate Republican and is seen as the most conservative of the trio.
  • Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a McConnell confidant, described his conversations with McConnell after the health episode in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.



  • The Wall Street Journal reported the “three Johns” are adopting “a wait-and-see attitude” until the Senate returns from recess. According to the Journal, Thune is the favorite to take over for McConnell, and at 62 he is younger than Cornyn and Barrasso who are both 71.
  • The Editors of National Review called on McConnell to step aside from his role as Senate Minority Leader. The editors praised him as a “legend of the US Senate” and expressed gratitude for “his long, impressive run,” but argued his recent health scares demonstrate the need for fresh leadership. The editorial concluded, “Prudence and realism have been hallmarks of his leadership and now are called for in considering his own future.”
  • The New York Post noted McConnell attended a fundraiser with Indiana Senate candidate Jim Banks on Wednesday after the health episode. “Enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion with @LeaderMcConnell this evening about the future of our country,” Banks posted on X.

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© Dominic Moore, 2023