McConnell, Dismissing Health Concerns, Says He Will Finish His Senate Term

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The Kentucky Republican said he would finish his term as leader, which runs through 2024, and in the Senate, where he was elected to serve through 2026.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the longtime Republican leader whose recent medical episodes have raised questions about his ability to continue steering his party in the Senate, declared on Wednesday that he had no intention of relinquishing his top post or leaving Congress ahead of schedule.

“I’m going to finish my term as leader and I’m going to finish my Senate term,” Mr. McConnell, wan in appearance and defiant in tone, told reporters at the Capitol as he took questions outside the Senate chamber.

In a crowded news conference, Mr. McConnell’s first since two alarming episodes in which he froze midsentence on camera while addressing the media, the 81-year-old minority leader refused to engage with questions about his health or his political future, even as he appeared to leave the door open to giving up his leadership post after 2024.

Still, Mr. McConnell, whose seventh term in the Senate lasts through 2026, would say nothing about the spells he experienced on camera in recent weeks that left him staring vacantly into space without speaking, appearing temporarily paralyzed.

“Dr. Monahan covered the subject fully,” Mr. McConnell said Wednesday, referring to a letter his office released from Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of Congress. Mr. McConnell, who appeared notably thinner since leaving Washington six weeks ago for the summer recess, said the brief statement from Dr. Monahan, which said there was no evidence the senator had a seizure disorder or had experienced a stroke, adequately put to bed any “reasonable questions.”

Several medical professionals who watched video of Mr. McConnell’s episodes suggested he had been experiencing focal seizures or mini strokes. They cast doubt on Dr. Monahan’s assessment that the incidents were merely part of a normal recovery from a concussion Mr. McConnell had sustained in March after falling at a Washington hotel.

But on Wednesday, after three consecutive questions about his health, Mr. McConnell abruptly ended the news conference.

Famously tight-lipped and difficult to read even in his prime, Mr. McConnell offered his colleagues little more detail in the semi-privacy of the weekly Senate Republican lunch, the first time G.O.P. senators had gathered since returning to Washington amid rumblings about a potential change at the top of the leadership ladder.

There, he gave his colleagues a rundown of his medical evaluations and said he had been given a clean bill of health, according to Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, as well as others who attended. Mr. McConnell told them that he had only frozen up twice, and simply had the misfortune of doing it both times on camera.

The update was enough to reassure most of his colleagues that he was healthy enough to continue leading the conference and that it was time to move on, at least for the moment. They asked him no follow-up questions during the private lunch and later lauded him publicly for what they called a high level of transparency about his condition.

“For him, this is unusual,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of Mr. McConnell’s potential successors, said after the lunch. “Senator McConnell is famous for keeping his cards close to the vest; he’s very good at it. Usually it serves him well, but not in this case. I think transparency does serve him well.”

“I think transparency does serve him well,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, praising Mr. McConnell for updating his colleagues.Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, described his comments during the lunch as a detailed report of his doctor’s evaluation, and said that Mr. McConnell had his full support. Mr. Graham was one of 10 G.O.P. senators who voted last fall for a change at the top of party leadership, supporting an unsuccessful challenge to Mr. McConnell by Senator Rick Scott of Florida.

Senator Todd Young of Indiana said the doctor’s note had reassured him that Mr. McConnell was in “decent health,” though he signaled some uncertainty about how long that would continue.

“I trust Senator McConnell will continue to lead our conference in the coming weeks, months, perhaps even years,” Mr. Young said. “But should Republicans have to choose a different leader, I’m confident we’ll settle on positive leadership that places a great emphasis on issues of national security.”

Others were more skeptical of the idea that Mr. McConnell would go anywhere anytime soon.

“It’ll happen when you see donkeys fly,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ophthalmologist, was one of the few Republicans on Capitol Hill to raise an eyebrow about Dr. Monahan’s brief and carefully worded statements regarding the minority leader’s health, both of which have suggested dehydration might have played a role.

“I’m not questioning his ability to be in the Senate,” Mr. Paul said of Mr. McConnell. “My question is with the diagnosis. I think when you have misinformation put out there, like ‘just dehydration,’ it leads to further conjecture, well, maybe there’s something else we’re not telling.”

Kayla Guo contributed reporting.

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