Sep 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

McConnell faces internal GOP scrutiny over health status

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing heat from fellow Republicans over his health status in the wake of several public freeze-ups.

Why it matters: McConnell's allies are closing ranks, but the dissent from some Senate conservatives presents a rare public display of party disunity in a body known for its discretion and gentility.

Driving the news: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist, questioned Capitol physician Dr. Brian P. Monahan's diagnosis of McConnell, telling reporters, "Everybody's seen the clips. It's not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that's dehydration."

  • "I think it'd be better to be forthcoming about what's going on with health problems," Paul said.
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), noting GOP criticism of President Biden's health, said he is "concerned about the president's health, I'm concerned about the minority leader's health. You can't have it both ways."
  • "I've just been home for a month, I was asked all over the state, I mean all over the state, about the minority leader," Hawley said. "And this was before the most recent episode, and then absolutely after it."

The latest: Monahan said Tuesday that tests and consultations ruled out a stroke, seizure or movement disorder as possible causes of McConnell's latest freeze-up at a press conference last month.

  • Monahan said last week that the 81-year-old was "medically clear" to maintain his work schedule and that "[o]ccasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration."
  • McConnell previously froze up at a press conference at the Capitol in July, with aides chalking up both incidents to lightheadedness.
  • Both incidents occurred after McConnell's recovery from a concussion following a fall at a fundraising dinner in March.

The other side: McConnell's allies leapt to his defense as the Senate returned on Tuesday, suggesting that Wednesday's closed-door GOP conference meeting will provide him an opportunity to address his colleagues' concerns.

  • "We'll have [a meeting] tomorrow at lunch where I imagine this will be discussed. I know Sen. McConnell wants to be more transparent about this," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of McConnell's would-be successors.
  • Cornyn and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell's deputy, both affirmed their backing of the GOP leader. "He has my full support and he'll have the support of the conference," said Thune.
  • Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he is "sure we'll have discussions, because all of us are concerned about him."

What he's saying: "One particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. "But I assure you August was a busy and productive month for me and my staff back in the Commonwealth."

  • The GOP leader told reporters he plans to perform his usual role leading the post-lunch leadership press conference on Wednesday.

Zoom in: Hawley, one of 10 senators who voted against McConnell's reelection as leader last year, said 2024 is "a big election ... I hope we'll be able to be laser focused on retaking the Senate and we won't have a lot of distractions."

  • "Candidate quality really matters. Leader quality really matters," he said. "Like I said, I spent a lot of my recess talking about this."
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) raised a similar point, noting that "next year is gonna be tough for anyone, but if you're the leader, it's double."
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