Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suddenly stopped speaking during a weekly Republican leadership news conference Wednesday afternoon, appearing to freeze, and then went silent and was walked away.
McConnell, R-Ky., had been making his opening remarks about an annual defense policy bill when he stopped talking. The Republican leader was silent for 19 seconds. His Republican colleagues asked if he was OK, and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a top McConnell deputy who previously worked as a physician before serving in Congress, escorted McConnell, 81, away from the cameras and reporters.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa made a hand gesture that initially appeared to resemble the sign of the cross. But her office later clarified that she was motioning for Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.
A few minutes later, McConnell walked back to the news conference by himself. When asked about his health, he said he was fine. Asked whether he is fully able to do his job, McConnell said, “Yeah.”
Asked about the episode, a McConnell aide pointed to the GOP leader saying, “I’m fine,” but the aide added that McConnell “felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment.”
“He came back to handle Q&A, which as everyone observed was sharp,” the aide said.
McConnell spoke to reporters briefly on Wednesday night as he left the Capitol and said, “The president called to check on me.”
“I told him I got sandbagged,” McConnell joked.
Both the White House and a spokesperson for the senator confirmed that Biden and McConnell spoke by phone Wednesday.
Asked by reporters how he was feeling, McConnell said, “I’m fine.” He did not directly answer what happened earlier in the day or whether he saw a doctor.
The Republican leader tripped and fell March 8 after an event for the Senate Leadership Fund — a Republican super PAC aligned with McConnell and GOP leadership — at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington. He was hospitalized with a concussion and a minor rib fracture and was discharged March 13 before entering rehab.
McConnell didn’t return to the Senate, however, until mid-April.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told NBC News on Wednesday that he met with McConnell following the Senate GOP leadership press conference for a regularly scheduled meeting “to catch up on both houses.”
“He was good,” McCarthy said. “There was no concerns about his health in the meeting.”
McConnell has served in the Senate since 1985. He isn’t up for re-election again until the 2026 midterm elections.
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