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27 July 2023

Mitch McConnell helped away from cameras after freezing during press conference

27 July 2023

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had to be helped away from the cameras after freezing during a press conference.

The 81-year-old stopped his remarks mid-sentence and stared off into space for several seconds before others leapt to his aid.

He had approached the podium for his weekly press conference and began speaking about the United States’ annual defence bill, which he said was proceeding with “good bipartisan co-operation”.

But he then appeared to lose his train of thought, trailing off with a drawn-out “uh”.

The Kentucky politician then froze and stared absently for about 20 seconds before his colleagues, who were standing behind him and could not see his face, grabbed his elbows and asked if he wanted to go back to his office.

He did not answer but slowly walked back to his office with an aide and Wyoming politician John Barrasso, a former orthopaedic surgeon.

After sitting in his office for several minutes, Mr McConnell returned to the press conference and answered questions from reporters.

Mr McConnell was out of the Senate for almost six weeks earlier this year after falling and hitting his head after a dinner event at a hotel.

He was in hospital for several days and his office said he suffered a concussion and broke a rib.

His speech has sounded more halting in recent weeks, prompting questions among some of his colleagues about his health.

When he returned to answer questions, Mr McConnell said he was “fine”.

Asked if he is still able to do his job, he said: “Yeah.”

Mr McConnell’s office declined to say whether he was seen by a doctor after Wednesday’s episode.

After the press conference, Mr Barrasso told reporters he “wanted to make sure everything was fine” and walked Mr McConnell down the hall to his office.

Mr Barrasso said he has been concerned since Mr McConnell was injured earlier this year “and I continue to be concerned”.

But asked about his particular concerns, Mr Barrasso said: “I said I was concerned when he fell and hit his head a number of months ago and was hospitalised.

“And I think he’s made a remarkable recovery, he’s doing a great job leading our conference and was able to answer every question the press asked him today.”

Walking out of his office on Wednesday evening, Mr McConnell again told reporters he was fine.

He said US President Joe Biden had called him.

“The President called to check up on me and I told him I got sandbagged,” Mr McConnell joked, referencing a quote from Mr Biden in June after he tripped over a sandbag and fell while onstage at the US air force academy graduation.

First elected to the Senate in 1984, Mr McConnell became the longest-serving Senate party leader in history in January.

He was easily reelected to his leadership post that same month, despite a challenge from Florida politician Rick Scott.

Mr McConnell had polio in his early childhood and he has long acknowledged some difficulty as an adult in climbing stairs.

In addition to his fall in March, he also tripped and fell four years ago at his home in Kentucky, breaking a shoulder.

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