December 7, 2023

Senator Mitch McConnell, the longtime Republican chief who had a critical head harm in a fall earlier this yr, froze midsentence throughout an look at his weekly information convention within the Capitol on Wednesday and was briefly escorted away from the microphones to get well.

In what appeared to be a medical episode, Mr. McConnell, 81, appeared to lose his practice of thought when starting his remarks on a pending Pentagon coverage invoice and was unable to proceed talking. Colleagues and aides waited a couple of awkward moments earlier than intervening, taking the senator by the arm and main him away from the microphones.

“Are you good Mitch?” requested Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of the Republican management, as Mr. McConnell remained silent and gazed round, showing disoriented.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, rapidly stepped in and picked up the place Mr. McConnell had left off, adopted by the remainder of his management staff.

Mr. McConnell then returned to take a variety of questions from the information media — greater than ordinary — and answered them clearly. Requested what had occurred, Mr. McConnell mentioned solely, “I’m high quality,” and mentioned he was capable of proceed along with his management duties.

Aides later mentioned that he had skilled some lightheadedness however famous he was capable of resume talking inside minutes, and never lengthy after, held his common weekly assembly with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California. They declined to elaborate on his medical standing, together with whether or not he had been examined by a doctor within the aftermath of the episode.

The scenario was simply the newest reminder of the superior age and frail situation of the highest Republican within the Senate, elevating questions on his future and that of his celebration.

Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky lawmaker who turned the longest-serving Senate chief in historical past at the start of the yr, has moved extra slowly and struggled with listening to loss since he fell at a Washington hotel in March throughout a fund-raising occasion, sustaining a concussion. His allies have rejected any suggestion that his talents have declined, saying he stays in cost in personal classes. They expressed confidence once more on Wednesday.

“I used to be involved when he fell and hit his head a variety of months in the past and was hospitalized,” mentioned Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican and a medical physician, who escorted Mr. McConnell to his workplace on Wednesday after the minority chief fell mute. “And he has made a outstanding restoration. He’s completed an excellent job main our convention, and he was capable of reply each query that the press requested him in the present day. And, it’s possible you’ll notice, he answered extra questions than he usually does.”

Nonetheless, Mr. McConnell has appeared bodily diminished because the fall, wherein he additionally broke a rib, frolicked in a rehabilitation heart and was absent from the Senate for greater than a month earlier than returning. The Republican chief, who had polio as a toddler, has all the time tread rigorously and prevented stairs however has been noticeably extra cautious since his current accidents when shifting across the Senate.

He has taken a step again from the dominant position he has performed on the helm of his celebration within the Senate for many years. He saved his distance from intense negotiations between the White Home and congressional Republicans earlier this yr on a deal to avert a catastrophic federal debt default, ceding the difficulty fully to Mr. McCarthy.

Mr. McConnell speaks much less continuously on the weekly closed-door Republican luncheon within the Capitol, in response to attendees.

And in current days, he has typically been much less lively within the Senate’s legislative work. It was Mr. Thune, who’s extensively considered a possible successor, who led negotiations for Republicans on the construction of the talk on the annual Pentagon invoice, a task often relished by Mr. McConnell, who’s keenly serious about navy coverage.

Wednesday’s episode was clearly alarming to colleagues accompanying him at what is called the weekly stakeout following the closed celebration lunch. It took a couple of moments for each members of the information media and the Senate to acknowledge that Mr. McConnell was struggling, since he usually picks his phrases rigorously at media occasions and has a penchant for remaining silent when he doesn’t want to reply to a query. On a couple of current events, Mr. McConnell, who makes use of listening to aids, additionally appeared to have issue listening to questions directed to him.

However on Wednesday, it was apparent that one thing else was the matter.

“Is there anything you wish to say, or ought to we simply return to your workplace?” Mr. Barrasso requested Mr. McConnell throughout the episode, taking him by the arm. “Do you wish to say anything to the press?”

There are a number of potential explanations for the episode, two neurologists mentioned, though they harassed that they didn’t study Mr. McConnell and solely noticed video of the incident.

Dr. Lee Schwamm, a neurologist and stroke professional at Yale, and Dr. Jeffrey Saver, a neurologist on the U.C.L.A. College of Medication, mentioned that the 2 almost certainly causes for the episode had been a transient ischemic assault — a kind of mini stroke — or a partial seizure.

“If I had been his physician or was in that viewers, I’d have really helpful he go to the emergency room instantly,” Dr. Schwamm mentioned.

Transient ischemic assaults happen when blood movement to a part of the mind is quickly blocked. They often final for 5 to 10 minutes, Dr. Schwamm mentioned.

A seizure, maybe ensuing from a head harm, was additionally potential, Dr. Saver mentioned. The neurologists mentioned a migraine was one other much less probably potential explanation for the episode.

Mr. McConnell was re-elected to a seventh time period in 2020, and he can be on the poll once more in 2026 if he selected to run. He was re-elected as celebration chief in November after holding off a problem from Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who determined to oppose Mr. McConnell after overseeing a Senate marketing campaign operation that was unable to regain the bulk. Mr. McConnell had the help of an awesome majority of Republicans, however the problem itself was noteworthy as a result of Mr. McConnell had sometimes been named chief with out a contest.

His fall and the next well being points had been one other show of the challenges confronted in an establishment with an growing old membership. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who lately turned 90, was away from the Senate for months earlier this yr with quite a lot of well being points, and her absence quickly slowed Democrats from confirming some contentious judicial nominees within the narrowly divided Senate.

After returning to talk to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. McConnell coherently answered questions on the prospects for the Home impeaching President Biden, the prison case of Hunter Biden and the state of the appropriations course of.

One query he selected to not reply and laughed off earlier than strolling away was a question about who he would favor to exchange him as chief if he stepped apart.

Gina Kolata, Kayla Guo and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

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