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Sen. McConnell back at work after doctor’s OK



Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., entered the chamber as he returned to work at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. Questions have mounted over the long-serving Republican leader’s health since McConnell froze up last week during a press conference in Kentucky, unable to respond to a question. It was the second such episode in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., entered the chamber as he returned to work at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. Questions have mounted over the long-serving Republican leader’s health since McConnell froze up last week during a press conference in Kentucky, unable to respond to a question. It was the second such episode in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s health episodes show “no evidence” of a stroke or seizure disorder, the Capitol physician said Tuesday, but his statement still left questions about the apparent freeze-ups that have drawn concerns about the 81-year-old’s situation.

McConnell returned to work at the Capitol after the summer recess, and his office released a letter from attending physician Brian P. Monahan concerning the long-serving Republican leader’s health. The GOP leader froze up last week during a press conference in Kentucky, unable to respond to a question in the second such episode in a month.

Walking into the Senate on Tuesday, McConnell answered no questions as he smiled at reporters. He made only passing reference to the incident during a speech in the chamber, his voice somewhat muffled.

“One particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention,” McConnell said. “But I assure you August was a busy and productive month for me.”

Asked later in the evening if he would holding his regular weekly press conference Wednesday, McConnell simply replied, “Yep.”

The episodes have fueled quiet concern and intense speculation about McConnell’s ability to remain the GOP leader. He suffered a concussion earlier this year when he fell and hit his head at a dinner in Washington. It has left him visibly slower in his speech and stride, and he appeared slimmer Tuesday. The letter was the second from the Capitol physician, who cleared McConnell to continue with his planned schedule after last week’s incident.

“There is no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson’s disease,” Monahan wrote, using the acronym for a transient ischemic attack, a brief stroke.

But there was no elaboration as to what did cause the episodes. The doctor said the assessments entailed several medical evaluations including a brain MRI scan and “consultations with several neurologists for a comprehensive neurology assessment.”

“There are no changes recommended in treatment protocols as you continue recovery from your March 2023 fall,” the doctor said.

It all comes amid a swirl of health concerns in Washington, particularly as COVID-19 cases show signs of rising heading into fall. First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, but President Joe Biden tested negative.

Many Republican allies have flocked to McConnell’s side, ensuring the famously guarded leader a well of support. Rivals have muted any calls for a direct challenge to his leadership.

“When donkeys fly,” GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said when asked when McConnell would step down.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he’s supporting McConnell as leader: “We might lose from Mitch McConnell 20 seconds a day, but the other 86,380 seconds are pretty darn good.”

And yet colleagues remained confused, concerned and hungering for a fuller explanation of the leader’s health.

Some senators appeared to question the physician’s diagnosis. But the top potential successors to McConnell’s leadership stood by him.

The No. 2 GOP leader Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said McConnell has his full support, as did the No. 3 GOP leader Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, another potential leadership heir, said McConnell told him last week that while he’s mentally rebounded from the concussion, physically it’s been a little more difficult.

“It appears that it’s harder to recover from a concussion when you’re 81 years old than maybe he thought,” Cornyn said. “But he feels like he’s up to the task and I think that’s the case.”

From the other side of the aisle, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the party whip, spoke with McConnell after the GOP leader delivered his remarks in the Senate.

“ He said, ‘ You know, I’ve taken every test they’ve thrown at me.’ And he said that ‘concussion can take its toll. So I’m going through recovering from a concussion,’” Durbin of Illinois told reporters afterward.

“And I told him I said I was glad to see him back, couldn’t wait to disagree with him.”

Opening the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of McConnell, “I’m glad to see him back and doing well.”

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