“He was ready to go through the agenda, did an extraordinary job. Any time someone has a traumatic brain injury, … you’re going to face challenges,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.), who attended the leaders’ meeting on Tuesday. “As someone who talks and works with this person quite frequently, … he’s always mentally in his game.”
On whether McConnell still faces the possibility of another fight to retain his leadership position, Tillis replied, “He has a very small group of people who would even ask the question. Maybe a handful.
After McConnell suffered a concussion from a fall in March, his critics – largely on the party’s right flank – remained silent. But the public freezes in July and August prompted more of them to consider new measures in the form of a wider debate about their leader’s ability to hold the helm, as well as the future broader Republican Party.
That effort has yet to materialize, but he still faces turmoil within his conference.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “My advice would be to be more open about what’s going on. In particular, Paul mocked a letter released last week by Capitol physician Brian Monahan that suggested McConnell may have frozen because he was dizzy or dehydrated.
“I don’t think it was particularly helpful that the Senate doctor described this as dehydration – and I think even non-doctors seeing this probably don’t really buy into that explanation,” said Paul, an ophthalmologist. . “What is happening from what I have seen is a neurological event. »
Paul is one of the few senators who did not reveal how he voted in last year’s leadership contest between McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has publicly opposed McConnell, said he heard “a lot of questions” about the leader’s future in his country over the holidays.
” That worries me. I worry about his health, just like I worry about the president’s health,” Hawley said. As for McConnell’s future as conference leader, Hawley said, “I didn’t vote for him. My point of view on this subject is therefore well known.
Still, McConnell’s skeptics have remained relatively quiet in public so far. Nobody has taken the initiative – not yet, at least – to impose a special meeting on the leader.
All of the “Three Johns” who could vie for the Kentuckian reins told reporters they wanted to see McConnell continue.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, minority whip, said McConnell “has my full support, and he will, I think, have the support of the conference.” Senators John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming, the latter chairing the conference, echoed that sentiment.
“The only person in the Milky Way who can stop Mitch is Mitch,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “And knowing him like me, I think it will happen just when the donkeys are flying. »
Asked about the leader’s ability to carry on, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who voted for Scott last year, said in the weeks to come, “everyone will know if this is working or not.” . Braun made a point of describing his disagreement with McConnell’s leadership as focused on politics and not on the leader’s mental and physical ability to do the job.
“It will be obvious at that time, if there are other cases. In the meantime, he was cleared. He’s tough, we’ll see what happens,” Braun said. “Everything will unfold. I think it will be obvious to him and to us. I will watch and observe.
Tuesday’s leadership meeting came hours after the Capitol’s top physician told McConnell that ‘there is no evidence’ that he suffered a stroke or has a seizure disorder. following his public freeze in Kentucky last week. Monahan came to this conclusion after evaluating “brain MRI imaging, EEG study, and consultations with multiple neurologists for a full neurological evaluation.”
Many Senate Republicans have cited Monahan’s letter as evidence both of McConnell’s openness about his health — a topic McConnell himself has yet to fully address — and as a sign that he is up to the task at hand.
“A little transparency can do a lot of good. So I think it’s important to have that information, excluding things that have been speculated,” Cornyn said. “He feels good; he feels like he lives up to his job. But for these two episodes, which obviously shook everyone up, it just takes him longer than expected to recover from a concussion.
In typical style, McConnell avoided any flippant remarks to the group of reporters camped outside his office on Tuesday. When he entered the Senate earlier in the day, he walked through a rarely used door to his office.
And during his first-floor speech since July, he made only an offhand reference to his 30-second freeze in Kentucky last week. “A particular moment of my time at home has received its fair share of press attention over the past week, but I assure you that August has been a busy and productive month for me and my team in the Commonwealth,” McConnell said.
But it’s fair to say that his health dominated the return to the Senate, even among Democrats. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was “happy to see him back and that he is doing well,” while Senator Majority Whip Dick Durbin said he was looking forward to seeing McConnell because that “I couldn’t wait to disagree with him”.
Durbin watched McConnell’s speech on Tuesday and chatted with the GOP leader about his final days. Recounting their conversation, Durbin said McConnell told him, “I passed all the tests they threw at me…a concussion can have bad consequences, and that’s what I live to recover from.” this concussion. »
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.