WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell appeared to briefly freeze up and was unable to answer a question from a reporter at an event in Kentucky on Wednesday, weeks after he had a similar episode in Washington.
As seen on video from a local news station, the 81-year-old McConnell was asked whether he would run for reelection in 2026. The senator asked the reporter to repeat the question before trailing off and staring straight ahead for about 10 seconds.
An aide standing at the front of the room with McConnell then asked him whether he heard the question and repeated it to him. When McConnell did not answer, the aide announced to the room that “we’re going to need a minute,” and McConnell continued to stare ahead. In all, he was silent for around 30 seconds.
The latest incident in Covington, Kentucky, on Wednesday only adds to the questions in recent months about McConnell’s health and whether the Republican, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984 and has served as GOP leader since 2007, will remain in Congress and in his leadership post. His reaction was similar to an occurrence in July, when he froze for about 20 seconds at a news conference in the Capitol. That time, he went back to his office with aides and then returned to answer more questions.
McConnell eventually answered two additional questions at the Kentucky event — though not the one about a 2026 campaign — and appeared to have some difficulty speaking. The aide then ended the news conference and McConnell slowly left the room.
His office said afterward that McConnell was feeling “momentarily lightheaded” and would see a physician before his next event. Similarly, after the July episode, aides said McConnell was lightheaded and McConnell told reporters several hours later that he was “fine.” McConnell’s office has so far declined to give any further details about what happened or why.
The latest freeze-up came after McConnell had already given a 20-minute speech. He appeared more comfortable during that part of the program, discussing the upcoming Senate session and joking at one point that his job is like “a groundskeeper at a cemetery. Everybody is under you but nobody is listening.”
In March, McConnell suffered a concussion and a broken rib after falling and hitting his head after a dinner event at a hotel. He did not return to the Senate for almost six weeks. Since he returned, he has appeared to walk more slowly and his speech has often sounded more halting.
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, causing a shoulder fracture that required surgery.
After the event was over on Wednesday, McConnell made calls to several of his top deputies in GOP leadership, including South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who is seen as one of his potential successors. McConnell “sounded like his usual self and was in good spirits,” Thune spokesman Ryan Wrasse said.
On Wednesday evening, McConnell attended an event in Louisville with Rep. Jim Banks, who is running for Senate in Indiana. Banks posted a photo of the two men on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and said he enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion with McConnell “about the future of our country.”
Asked about McConnell on Wednesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said he had just heard what had happened. “Mitch is a friend, as you know,” Biden said. “Not a joke. … He’s a good friend. I’m going to try to get in touch with him this afternoon. ”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville and video journalist Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.