Mitch McConnell freezes at Senate press convention

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) reaches out to help Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) after McConnell froze and stopped talking at the microphones during a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans U.S. Capitol 26, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly froze and was briefly unable to speak at a Senate press conference Wednesday, prompting his colleagues to rush in and help him walk a few feet away from the cameras.

The chilling moments came during the Senate GOP leadership’s weekly press conference in the Capitol, where McConnell, 81, was standing at a lectern when he fell silent all of a sudden.

Fellow senators appeared to quickly realize what was happening to the Kentucky Republican, and within moments Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and South Dakota’s John Thune stepped in to support McConnell’s elbows.

Thune and Barrasso walked the GOP leader off to one side of the long, marble hallway, but after a few minutes, McConnell returned to the lectern and finished the press conference.

He dismissed reporters’ questions about his health, however, and whether his brief inability to speak or move was related to a concussion the senator had suffered earlier this year.

“No. I’m fine. I’m fine,” McConnell replied.

NBC News’ Frank Thorp captured the incident on camera.

A McConnell aide later sought to play down the scary moment, telling NBC that the Republican senator merely “felt light headed and stepped away for a moment.” The staffer noted how McConnell “came back to handle Q and A, which as everyone observed, was sharp.”

The incident Wednesday occurred four months after McConnell suffered a serious fall at a Washington hotel that fractured his rib, in addition to giving him a concussion.

After a week in the hospital, McConnell was released to rehab and spent the next month recuperating at home before he was able to return to the Senate in mid-April.

It was unclear whether McConnell received any medical treatment after the Wednesday incident.

Any significant change to McConnell’s health would have potentially major political implications for Congress and the White House. This is especially true given how narrow each party’s margins are in the House and Senate.

In the unfortunate event that McConnell were unable to lead the GOP caucus on a daily basis, or cast in-person votes in the Capitol, there is no obvious successor waiting to take his place.

This potential leadership vacuum was on stark display Wednesday when a reporter asked McConnell whether he had “anybody in mind to replace you when you’re no longer conference leader?”

McConnell did not respond. Instead, he just smiled and walked away.

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