Mitch McConnell fell earlier this month, before freezing mid-sentence this week

Mitch McConnell fell earlier this month, before freezing mid-sentence this week

Republican also fell and sustained concussion four months ago and reportedly uses wheelchair in crowded airports

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, suffered an initially unreported fall earlier this month, before a very public health scare this week revived questions about his age and fitness.

On Wednesday, while speaking to reporters at the US Capitol, the 81-year-old appeared to freeze for nearly 20 seconds. Another Republican senator, John Barrasso of Wyoming, a doctor, then escorted his leader away from the cameras.

Only four months ago, McConnell, who suffered from polio as a child, affecting his gait, fell and sustained a concussion, leading to a prolonged absence from Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, he returned to work and told reporters he was “fine” shortly after his incident. An aide told reporters McConnell “felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment. He came back to handle Q and A.”

But NBC News then reported that McConnell also tripped and fell earlier this month, suffering a “face plant” while disembarking a plane at Reagan airport, according to an anonymous witness.

Another source told NBC McConnell now uses a wheelchair as a precaution in crowded airports. McConnell did not comment on the NBC report.

As Republicans relentlessly claim Joe Biden, 80, is too old to be president, McConnell’s freeze and news of another fall revived questions about his own age.

After McConnell’s awkward moment in front of reporters, Helaine Olen, a Washington Post columnist, said: “I hope Mitch McConnell has a quick recovery, but both Democrats and Republicans need to hold honest discussions about how age is not just a number.”

From the right, Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative youth group, said: “The stamina and health of elected leaders has become a major problem in American politics.”

Naming McConnell alongside Biden, the Democratic congresswoman and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (83), and two Senate Democrats, Dianne Feinstein of California (90) and the Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman (53 but having suffered a stroke and sought treatment for depression), Kirk added: “These politicians have been entrenched or installed by corrupt party structures, but they are too old or too feeble to run the country. Resign.”

On the record, however, Republican senators expressed support for McConnell. One senator told NBC McConnell was “definitely slower with his gait” but said that in party meetings, the minority leader “doesn’t address” his age and his health.

McConnell, a ruthless partisan warrior who has described himself as “stronger than mule piss”, entered the Senate in 1984, when he was 42. He has led Republicans since 2007, in the majority between 2015 and 2021, a spell which saw him oversee the rightwing capture of the supreme court among other successes.

Returning to work on Wednesday, McConnell said Biden, a Senate colleague for 24 years, had called.

“The president called to check on me,” McConnell said. “I told him I got sandbagged.”

That was a reference to the fall Biden, 80, suffered last month at the US air force academy in Colorado, and the president’s subsequent joke to the press.

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