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Capitol doctor: No stroke, seizure, Parkinson’s in McConnell tests

Republican leader froze twice recently answering reporter questions

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., enters his Capitol office through a back hallway on Tuesday as he returns to Washington following the Senate’s August recess.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., enters his Capitol office through a back hallway on Tuesday as he returns to Washington following the Senate’s August recess. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There is “no evidence” that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a seizure disorder or experienced a stroke during a brief episode last week when he struggled to answer a reporter’s question, Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician, said in a new letter.

The Tuesday letter, which was shared by McConnell’s office, also said there is no evidence that he experienced TIA, a transient ischemic attack, or a movement disorder such as Parkinson’s disease when he appeared to freeze Wednesday while answering questions from reporters during an event in Kentucky.

McConnell didn’t elaborate on his health status when asked by reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. He alluded to the episode, however, while speaking on the Senate floor about what he called a “busy and productive” month.

“One particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week, but I assure you August was a busy and productive month for me and my staff back in the commonwealth,” he said.

McConnell said his time in his home state included meeting with small business owners and community leaders about inflation and with health care and recovery workers about the substance abuse crisis.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said during his own floor remarks that he was “glad to see [McConnell] back and doing well.”

Last week was the second time this summer that McConnell publicly experienced such a moment, the first happening during a Capitol news conference in July. McConnell’s office has said the senator experienced lightheadedness, which Monahan said could result from dehydration.

Several Republican senators stood by the Kentucky Republican on Tuesday and endorsed McConnell continuing to lead the conference.

“I was really delighted to see the report that came out about the EEG being normal, as a doctor, the MRI being normal, the neurologic evaluation all being good. This is really good news and he has my full support,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate Republican.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said he’d “found him to be on point” during several different communications during the recess. He said McConnell was still able to do his job and to do “better than virtually anybody else in the Senate.”

“If it happens more, then that’s a discussion to have,” Tillis said. “But right now I’ve got confidence that we’re just going to move on. We’ve got a lot of problems to solve.”

‘Not a valid medical diagnosis’

Monahan said that he examined McConnell, 81, after the latest episode. The tests included “brain MRI imaging, EEG study and consultations with several neurologists for a comprehensive neurology assessment,” the letter said, and there were no recommended changes to McConnell’s treatment protocols as he recovers from a fall in March

But not everyone in the conference was taking Monahan at his word. Fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he hadn’t seen any of the test results, but that many people have short seizures and also have normal EEG results. 

“An EEG that’s done at one time in an office visit often will miss things, even a 24-hour EEG might miss things,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a valid medical diagnosis. Everybody’s seen the clips. It’s not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that’s dehydration.”

The health of the nation’s elected leaders has come under greater observation in recent months. While McConnell was absent from the Senate earlier this year, so was Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was recovering from shingles. She went to the hospital last month after a fall, but took part in Tuesday’s first vote of the week.

President Joe Biden’s age at 80 is also a discussion point as he campaigns for a second term.

“The voters considered that when they voted him into the presidency and the voters make the choice of whether or not you’re fit to be in office or not,” said Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who is 89 and won reelection last year.

McConnell was absent from the Senate for several weeks this spring after falling at a political event, resulting in a concussion and a fractured rib.

Monahan cleared McConnell last week to return to his regular work schedule. The Senate is back to Washington on Tuesday after the annual August recess. Government funding is at the top of Congress’ to-do list this month.

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