Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was hospitalized for five days after a fall in March, then froze at the podium during a news conference just over a month ago in what may or may not have been an unrelated episode.
However, after a second episode of freezing while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, questions about the 81-year-old Kentucky Republican’s health and fitness to serve in office have resurfaced — especially as Republicans increasingly question President Joe Biden, who will turn 81 in November.
According to Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward, three senators named John are the most likely candidates for McConnell, should he alter his early assurances that he intends to serve out his term, which expires in January 2025.
Ward believes that if McConnell steps down, the current minority whip, South Dakota Senator John Thune, will take over.
Thune, 62, has served in the Senate since 2005, most recently as whip, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican position, since 2019. As the No. 2 man, it stands to reason that he would be chosen to finish McConnell’s tenure if necessary.
Sen. John Cornyn, who served as Republican whip for six years before to Thune’s appointment, is another likely candidate.
The Texas Republican is 71 years old and has been a senator for two years longer than Thune. Ward also said that he had expertise directing the “campaign arm” that helps Republicans win senatorial elections, which Thune lacks.
The former Texas Supreme Court associate justice has also been discussed as a prospective Supreme Court nominee.
If Thune or Cornyn are unable to garner enough support from fellow Republicans to become minority leader — Thune perhaps because he is perceived to be too moderate, and Cornyn perhaps because he is perceived to be too conservative — Ward believes a third John is waiting in the wings.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is the most likely candidate to take over as whip if Thune becomes minority leader, but things don’t often turn out the way people want them to within the Beltway.
Barrasso, 71, was appointed to the Senate after Sen. Craig Thomas died of illness problems in 2007 and later took over as leader of the Senate Republican Conference when Thune became Republican whip in 2019.
As Politico’s Burgess Everett wrote over 18 months ago, “When Mitch McConnell steps down as Senate GOP leader, which won’t happen anytime soon, John is sure to replace him.”
The unsolved question is who among the three Johns will be chosen. Or, of course, if any of them will, as McConnell has yet to indicate that he intends to do anything other than finish out his term.
However, his health may force the issue, according to two doctors who were approached by journalists for their thoughts on what might be ailing the minority leader.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a neurologist connected with New York University’s Langone Medical Center, stated to Fox News on Wednesday that the Republican Senate leader had Parkinson’s disease.
“I have to tell you, at the top of that list, and again I haven’t examined him and I don’t have any background on this — except I’ve talked to some people in Congress and in the Senate — would be Parkinson’s disease.”
“That, in its later stages, can give you a freeze,” Siegel said of McConnell’s behavior, pointing out that the senator’s staffers hadn’t reacted with alarm bells.
McConnell froze publicly for the second time in less than a month during a function in Covington, Kentucky, on Wednesday.
BREAKING NEWS: Sen. Mitch McConnell appearing to have another scary episode in the media gaggle in Covington today. Aides had to step in to help him out and repeat questions. He was eventually lead away. We'll have the full video on @WLWT pic.twitter.com/q9ex5MHxLV
— Hannah Thomas (@HannahPThomas) August 30, 2023
The incident occurred after McConnell became similarly inattentive in the halls of the Capitol.
In a CNN interview, neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta offered a similar explanation for McConnell’s issues, though he left up a number of other options.
“There’s a lot of things that can sort of come to mind,” he said.
Gupta also pointed out that McConnell’s aides hadn’t reacted with surprise, suggesting that the problems were “ongoing.”
“Someone who has a Parkinsonian-like condition, for example, whose medications are wearing off, or something like that,” he suggested. “That’s something that could sort of explain this behavior.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Parkinson’s disease is a terrible degenerative condition in which sufferers lose control of their neurological system.
According to a McConnell spokesperson, the 81-year-old senator only felt lightheaded, but he planned to see a doctor after the incident.