Make your home page

Capitol Hill doctor: McConnell did not have a stroke or seizure when freezing before cameras

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference following the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on October 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, said in a new letter that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell did not suffer a stroke or seizure – and is not suffering from Parkinson’s disease – after the 81-year-old Kentuckian was evaluated by a group of neurologists following two recent health scares in front of TV cameras.

The new letter, released by McConnell’s office Tuesday, comes after he froze in front of cameras for the second time in as many months, raising questions about whether the GOP leader could continue to hold his powerful position atop the Senate GOP Conference. After he froze last week in Covington, Kentucky, McConnell was evaluated by four neurologists, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Monahan said in the Tuesday letter that he consulted with McConnell’s neurologists and conducted several evaluations, including brain MRI imaging and a test that measures electrical imaging in the brain.

“There is no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson’s disease,” the letter said.

McConnell made a passing reference to his freezing episode, saying that “one particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention and 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 during floor remarks Tuesday. McConnell detailed events he attended during the recess, pausing once to take a drink of water.

Members of the Senate GOP leadership team dismissed concerns over McConnell’s health as they emerged from their weekly meeting on Tuesday evening.

McConnell is expected to address his health during a closed door conference meeting with Republican senators on Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN.

“I think he understands,” Cornyn said of McConnell addressing the conference at lunch on Wednesday. “He understands I think that transparency is his friend and I think eliminates a lot of speculation.”

When asked by CNN if he backs McConnell staying as leader in the next Congress, Senate GOP Whip John Thune said: “I don’t even want to start speculating about that. But he has my full support and he’ll have the support of the conference.”It’s still unclear exactly why McConnell froze up for roughly 30 seconds each time.

The Republican leader’s office had attributed the two frozen moments to “lightheadedness,” and Monahan had indicated in a previous letter that it’s “not uncommon” for victims of concussion to feel lightheaded. McConnell suffered a concussion and broken ribs after falling at a Washington hotel and hitting his head in March, sidelining him from the Senate for nearly six weeks.

The note comes as the Senate returns to session Tuesday after a five-week recess and as GOP senators are expected to face questions about whether they believe the Republican leader can continue leading his conference as he has for the past 16 years – longer than any party leader in Senate history. McConnell is expected to continue to stay through this Congress as leader, but there are growing questions about whether he will continue to serve in the next Congress, which begins in 2025.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins said she spoke to McConnell the day after the recent freezing incident and feels that he is “fully prepared” to handle his work.

“I do not,” the Maine Republican told CNN when asked if she had any concern about McConnell’s health. “I talked to Leader McConnell the day after the incident. He sounded fine. We talked about the resumption of business this week and I feel that he is fully prepared and able to conduct his duties.”

GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said even if McConnell has a 20-second “checkout” a day, he’s still doing “a pretty darn good job” the rest of the time.

“The reality is that we may expect that Mitch McConnell will checkout for 20 seconds a day, but the other 86,380 seconds in the day, he does a pretty darn good job,” he said.

But not all GOP senators were satisfied with McConnell’s explanation. Fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul called the dehydration diagnosis an “inadequate explanation” and said that his 25-years of medical experience tell him that “it doesn’t look like dehydration.”

In an interview with CNN, Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville suggested that McConnell has not completely healed from his concussion earlier in the year and said that he is concerned McConnell might not be able to do his job.

While he said that he’d love for McConnell to remain leader, Tuberville said that he needs to hear from the Kentucky Republican at the full conference meeting Wednesday.

“There’s going to be a lot of things the leader is going to be on top of. And can he do it? I mean, it’s like being a quarterback. I hope he can,” the former Auburn University football coach said.

“In my profession, I’ve seen kids really struggle for a long time after concussions,” Tuberville said. “That’s the reason you don’t play them after that. You don’t go back in the game until you’re completely well. And it’s obvious he’s not completely well.”