US senator Mitch McConnell freezes mid-sentence, sparks health concerns

WASHINGTON: Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell sparked health concerns on Wednesday (Jul 27) when he appeared to physically seize up at a press conference in Congress.

McConnell, 81, froze in mid-sentence and stood motionless at a microphone for about 20 seconds before aides and fellow senators walked him away.

But the veteran Kentucky politician returned several minutes later and told reporters “I’m fine” before taking questions on various political issues.

US senator Mitch McConnell walks to speak with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jul 26, 2023. The 81-year-old GOP leader seemed to freeze at the lectern and was helped by other senators. McConnell went to his office for a few minutes and returned to speak with reporters. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

McConnell has been the top Republican in the US Senate since 2007, and wielded unflinching power as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2021.

In that role, he stifled policies of the Democratic administration of president Barack Obama and bolstered Republican president Donald Trump when he took office in January 2017.

He most notably helped engineer conservatives taking a majority on the Supreme Court by stalling a hearing for Obama’s progressive-appointed nominee in 2016.

He also ensured that Trump was not convicted at trial after his unprecedented two impeachments, though he was critical of Trump’s behaviour.

In March, McConnell was hospitalised after he tripped and fell during a private dinner.

He suffered a concussion and a fractured rib, and spent six weeks away from the Senate, undergoing physical therapy.

The incident on Wednesday highlighted the challenge of the ageing leadership in the US Congress.

Three other senators are older than McConnell, including Republican Chuck Grassley, 89, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who is 90.

Another two-dozen senators are 70 or older.

Age is also a central issue in the looming 2024 presidential battle: incumbent Joe Biden is 80 while Republican front-runner Donald Trump is 77.

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