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McConnell publicly vows to ‘finish’ term after private update to Senate GOP

Mitch McConnell is over the frenzy over his freezes.

The Kentucky Republican faced the press on Wednesday for the first time since his 30-second on-camera pause last week, fielding questions about his health and future leading the Senate GOP. McConnell batted the queries away with quintessential terseness — a sign that after giving a private download to his colleagues, he felt no need to do the same for the media.

Instead, McConnell leaned on a pair of letters from Capitol physician Brian Monahan that cleared him to continue his duties, stating that the 81-year-old minority leader has showed no evidence of a stroke or seizure disorder. Those letters have raised eyebrows among Senate Republicans, particularly Kentucky’s junior senator Rand Paul, but McConnell bluntly told the dozens of reporters lined up to hear him speak that Monahan’s word was enough.

“Dr. Monahan covered the subject in full. You’ve had a chance to read it. I don’t have anything to add to it. And I think it should answer any reasonable question,” McConnell said.

The GOP leader also reinforced what’s become increasingly obvious over the past few days as he moves to shore up support among his leadership team: He’s not intending to leave his current posts any time soon, with his Senate term set to end in 2026.

“I have no announcements to make on that subject. I’m going to finish my term as leader and I’m going to finish my Senate term,” said McConnell, whose term as leader expires at the end of this Congress. He then walked away from the assembled press.

Before that appearance, McConnell wasn’t challenged about his health by fellow GOP senators during a closed-door gathering. After describing his condition and the tests he’s taken to his 49-member conference, McConnell faced no follow-up questions, and the discussion quickly moved on to other topics.

“Mitch talked about his health history, he went over the tests he’s had, and said he’s been given a clean bill of health. He indicated he’s had two of these episodes, and both of them happened to be in a press conference,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said. “Otherwise, he worked hard in August and raised about $49 million. And there were no questions, and then we moved onto other topics.”

McConnell-aligned political groups, including Senate Leadership Fund, announced on Wednesday that they raised nearly $50 million in August. Steven Law, a former McConnell chief of staff who now runs the SLF super PAC, attended Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting.

“I don’t think there’s any question about him being able to continue leading the caucus,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) said. “He’s proven he’s able to raise money like no one else in our political history at this level, and I think he’ll continue to have full support.”

McConnell suffered two public freeze-ups this summer, one on the Hill in July and another back in Kentucky last week. Those incidents followed a March fall and concussion that sidelined him for several weeks. Both episodes alarmed Republicans, but each time McConnell has quickly sought to demonstrate that he’s still in charge and still has the support of his conference.

This week, however, McConnell made conspicuous moves toward transparency on a topic that he usually avoids by releasing the two Monahan letters and specifically tackling his health with GOP senators. Paul said that he’s not questioning McConnell’s capacity to serve, but he seemed flummoxed by Monahan’s suggestion that McConnell’s freeze could be attributed to dehydration.

“What I can tell you is that having vacant spells of 30 seconds or more where you are unresponsive is not a sign or a symptom of dehydration,” Paul, an ophthalmologist, told reporters on Wednesday. “When you have misinformation put out there like dehydration, that leads to further conjecture.”

Yet few other senators echoed Paul’s skepticism. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supported Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) over McConnell in last year’s leadership race, said after the meeting that McConnell has his “full support.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who also opposed McConnell in last year’s leadership election and has questioned the leader’s political tactics at times, said he’s “not a doctor, I have to go by what he’s getting from his doctors.“

“We all know he’s having a serious injury and he’s recovering from it,” Johnson added in an interview. “I think everybody can see he’s in the process of recovery. I don’t really have anything else to add.”

David Lim contributed to this report.

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