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Republicans offer continued backing of McConnell after freezing episode

McConnell suffered 2 unreported falls this year
Mitch McConnell suffered 2 unreported falls this year 02:12

Washington — GOP senators offered their continued support for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after he froze mid-sentence for several seconds while speaking to reporters this week, brushing off questions about his ability to remain the top Republican in the upper chamber after the episode.

"He said he's fine and I take him at face value," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, told reporters Thursday. "You heard him respond to questions yesterday. He was very crisp in his answers."

GOP Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming said McConnell enjoys a "tremendous amount of support." 

"With one hand tied behind his back, he's still a superior leader to so many people here that I think people still have a lot of confidence in," she said.

Lummis said it's "legitimate" to discuss the ages of the nation's leaders, but added that "we all age differently and at different times." 

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on July 27, 2023. McConnell, 81, sparked health concerns on July 26 when he appeared to physically seize up at a press conference in Congress. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called the incident "disturbing," but said McConnell was "strong and alert" when they talked Wednesday night.

"Mitch is strong, he's stubborn as a mule," he said.

McConnell, 81, appeared alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other senators on Thursday morning for a photo with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and delivered remarks on the Senate floor. He declined to answer questions about how he was feeling.

Questions about McConnell's health arose after he stopped mid-sentence for more than 15 seconds while delivering opening remarks to reporters at a press conference Wednesday. Several of McConnell's Republican colleagues stepped in to assist him, and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, an orthopedic surgeon, escorted the GOP leader away briefly. 

McConnell returned to the gathering soon after and told reporters he was feeling "fine." An aide to the Kentucky senator later said he was feeling light-headed and stepped away. President Biden called McConnell to check on him, and the senator said he told the president "I got sandbagged," a reference to when Mr. Biden tripped over a sandbag during the U.S. Air Force Academy's commencement ceremony last month.

The episode comes after McConnell suffered a concussion and broken rib after falling at a Washington hotel in March. He was sidelined from the Capitol for more than a month after the injuries.

GOP Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina confirmed to CBS News on Thursday that McConnell also fell during a congressional delegation's trip to Finland in February, though he noted it was icy at the time and "could have happened to any others." 

Budd said he is not concerned about McConnell's health and praised his record as Republican leader.

"He is doing a great job. He is very skilled and obviously a better manager than Leader Schumer," he said.

McConnell became the longest-serving Senate leader with the start of the new Congress in January after he fended off a leadership challenge — the first since he took the helm of the Republican conference in 2007 — from Florida Sen. Rick Scott in November. 

Nikole Killion contributed to this report

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