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McConnell Returns to Senate as Test Sees ‘No Evidence’ of Stroke

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell shows “no evidence” of a seizure disorder or a stroke, a congressional physician said Tuesday amid growing concerns about the 81-year-old lawmaker’s health and capacity to lead the chamber’s Republicans before the 2024 elections.

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Some Republican senators, however, questioned whether he can do his job as they returned to Washington from a long summer break. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who didn’t back McConnell for leader in the current Congress, said Tuesday that he was “concerned” but stopped short of calling for his ouster

Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician, said he had examined McConnell since the senator froze last week for more than 30 seconds during a public appearance. The examination included a brain MRI and EEG, Monahan said in a letter released by McConnell’s office.

“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,” Monahan said in the letter, which didn’t offer a medical opinion on the cause of the episode.

McConnell returned to the Capitol following the letter’s release as the Senate resumed work after a month, smiling and ignoring reporters’ questions on his health as he walked in and out of the Senate chamber.

He delivered an eight-minute speech on the Senate floor, briefly alluding to a “particular moment” during the August break that “received its fair share of attention.” He didn’t otherwise address the episode as he detailed his August itinerary.

The Republican leader, a consummate dealmaker, could play a pivotal role in a looming standoff with hard-line House conservatives threatening to shut down the government as soon as Oct. 1 unless President Joe Biden and Democrats agree to deep spending cuts and other concessions.

Read More: McConnell’s Frailty Casts Pall Over GOP Ahead of 2024 Election

Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet privately on Wednesday. None of them have suggested that McConnell step aside, and his lieutenants have continued to back him.

But Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator and a physician, said he wanted McConnell to be more “forthcoming” about his health.

Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said he plans to ask McConnell on Wednesday if he’s up to the job, given the challenges both in Congress and in the coming elections. Hawley said concerns about McConnell could become a distraction.

“I was just home for a month and I was asked about it everywhere,” Hawley said. “Everywhere, all the time. We have a big election coming up in 2024 and we need to be laser-focused in the Senate about retaking the Senate. And I just hope that’s the path forward.”

McConnell replied “yep” when asked if he would speak to reporters after the Wednesday meeting.

Last Wednesday, he abruptly stopped and stared ahead for more than 30 seconds after a reporter’s question about a potential 2026 reelection run during an appearance in Covington, Kentucky. It was the second such public episode in as many months.

In July, McConnell froze for about 20 seconds during a news conference on Capitol Hill. He was led away for a few minutes but then returned to the microphones and said he was “fine” and able to do his job. He suffered a concussion and broken rib in a March 8 fall at a fundraiser in Washington and didn’t return to the Senate until mid-April.

A McConnell ally said last week the leader has maintained his normal political schedule including telephone calls, meetings and fundraisers since returning to work.

Yet the conservative National Review called in an editorial last week for McConnell to step down, saying he had “noticeably aged” in recent months and the two recent incidents affect “his ability to function as the leading representative of his caucus.”

Dick Durbin, the Senate Democrats’ second-ranking leader, indicated that McConnell linked the recent episodes to the concussion he suffered in March in a conversation the two recently had.

“He said the concussion had lasting effects on him,” Durbin said. “As he said, he’s gone through every examination and passed.”

(Updates with senators’ comments, starting in eighth paragraph. A previous version corrected timing of National Review editorial, in eleventh paragraph.)

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