Top US Senate Republican McConnell OK to continue duties, Congress' doctor says

Top U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell appears to freeze up in Covington

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has been medically cleared to continue with his schedule, the attending physician to Congress said on Thursday, one day after the 81-year-old froze up at an event in his home state of Kentucky.

The incident had raised fresh questions about the health of the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, who had similarly frozen up a month earlier during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, McConnell was speaking to reporters in Kentucky when he froze for more than 30 seconds. He eventually answered two more questions, but when he did so, his voice was shaky and quiet. Aides said on Wednesday he had been light-headed.

McConnell had been sidelined from Congress earlier this year, after he tripped in March and was hospitalized for a concussion and a minor rib fracture. He returned to the Senate in April.

Lawmakers are due to return to Washington from summer recess next week and will have urgent work ahead, including passing legislation to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends. McConnell in the past has typically played an important role in negotiating and passing spending bills; without congressional action, the federal government would begin to partially shut down in October.

The congressional physician said in a statement that he had consulted with McConnell and McConnell's neurology team and had evaluated the incident.

"I have informed Leader McConnell that he is medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned. Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration," Congress's attending physician, Brian Monahan, wrote.

McConnell's office has said he plans to remain in his leadership post through the 2024 election. Aides did not immediately respond to a question about his upcoming schedule or provide additional details on his condition.

McConnell's health issues come amid public concern about the United States' aging leaders. The Senate has one of the oldest memberships of parliamentary bodies in the world, with the average age of its lawmakers hovering above 64.

Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, was absent from the Senate for months earlier this year, after she suffered complications from shingles.

A few lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have called for McConnell to step aside given his health concerns.

Democratic President Joe Biden, who at 80 is the oldest person to ever occupy the White House, said he spoke to McConnell on Thursday.

"He was his old self on the telephone," said Biden, who served with McConnell in the Senate. "I'm confident he's going to be back to his old self."

Biden's leading Republican rival for reelection next year, former President Donald Trump, is 77.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)