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Republicans voice support for McConnell after he froze at press conference

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reaches out to help Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after McConnell froze and stopped talking at the microphone during a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday. McConnell was escorted back to his office and later returned to the news conference and answered questions.
Drew Angerer
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Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reaches out to help Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after McConnell froze and stopped talking at the microphone during a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday. McConnell was escorted back to his office and later returned to the news conference and answered questions.

Updated July 27, 2023 at 3:51 PM ET

Senate Republicans expressed confidence in Sen. Mitch McConnell's leadership Thursday, one day after the Senate minority leader abruptly froze during his weekly press conference.

McConnell, 81, abruptly stopped talking and appeared unable to continue for more than 30 seconds at his weekly press conference with Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday. He was escorted out of the press conference, but returned minutes later and took questions from reporters.

Asked about the episode and whether it was related to his health issues after a fall earlier this year when he suffered a concussion, he said, "I'm fine," and told reporters he was able to do his job.

McConnell later said that President Biden, a former Senate colleague of the minority leader, called him to ask how he's doing. "I told him I got sand-bagged," McConnell quipped, in apparent reference to Biden's fall at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation where he tripped on a sand bag. McConnell reiterated that he's feeling "fine."

The incident sparked concern and speculation about McConnell's health, but Senate Republicans voiced support for him on Thursday and shut down questions about a change in leadership.

"I spoke with [McConnell] last night on the floor about some legislation. I noticed no change," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said. "He wrote a book called The Long Game, and he's in it for the long haul."

"I'm planning that he'll be there for at least all of my career and maybe after," Romney added.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is a medical doctor, noted that there is a "sort of uncertainty" involved in health events.

"But right now I have complete confidence that McConnell will continue as an effective leader," Cassidy said, adding that there was "no indication" that the party needed someone else to take over.

In March the Kentucky Republican, who is 81 and the longest serving party leader in the Senate in U.S. history, fell at an event in Washington with GOP donors and was hospitalized. He was treated for a concussion and releasedafter five days. McConnell has experienced other falls and health issues and he walks with a limp, a result of having polio as a child. He has talked publicly about his experience with that disease, when he was diagnosed before a polio vaccine had been developed. In 2018, he cited his personal battle as motivation to eradicate the disease around the world. He also wrote about his experience doing grueling exercises to be able to walk while battling polio in his 2016 memoir, The Long Game.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asked about what happened on Wednesday and if he had any concerns about the top Senate Republican's health told reporters, "I always wish Leader McConnell well."

McConnell was first elected in 1984 and is up for reelection in 2026 and has not made any announcements about whether he will run for an eighth term. When asked on Wednesday if he had any successor in mind when he no longer was serving as GOP leader McConnell laughed and walked away without responding.

On Thursday, when asked by reporters whether he had concerns about McConnell's ability to continue as leader, Sen. Rick Scott replied "I hope he's healthy." The Florida Republican challenged McConnell for the gavel last year, but said Thursday he is not thinking about a leadership position right now; instead, he said he is focused on his 2024 reelection race.

Leigh Walden contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is an assistant producer with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces, the NPR Politics Podcast, and digital content. She also reports from the field and helps run the NPR Politics social media channels.
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