Sen. Mitch McConnell had another scary health episode on Wednesday, freezing up for over half a minute while attempting to answer questions from reporters. A staffer eventually stepped in, and a later explanation was given that he was dehydrated.
Calls for McConnell to retire (or at least step down from leadership) rang out afterward, many from Republicans themselves.
In a bit of a twist, though, President Joe Biden is stepping up to the plate to defend McConnell.
“I spoke to Mitch. He’s a friend and I spoke to him today,” Biden said when asked about McConnell’s health at a news conference on FEMA’s response to Hurricane Idalia. “And, you know, he was his old self on the telephone.
“And one of the leading women on my staff, her husband’s a neurosurgeon as well,” he noted. “It’s not at all unusual to have the response that sometimes happens to Mitch when you’ve had a severe concussion — it’s part of his recovery.”
“And so I’m confident he’s going to be back to his old self.”
Let’s examine the merits of the claim first. Is McConnell having these on-camera episodes (which means he’s having them much more often behind the scenes) simply as a symptom of his recovery from a concussion he sustained? While that’s possible, it’s also factual to note that people who are of an advanced age have a much harder time recovering from such injuries. McConnell’s fall was in March. It’s now September.
The reasoning being applied is reminiscent of what was said and continues to be said about Sen. John Fetterman, whose health issues following a massive stroke in May of 2022 have been extensively documented. While assurances were given that he’d quickly recover, he has actually gotten worse since being elected, with two stints in the hospital, one for nearly two months. Since then, he has essentially become a ghost, occasionally seen walking the halls but rarely speaking.
Perhaps McConnell will recover, but at 80 years old, how long are Republicans expected to sit around and wait for that to occur? Outspoken, out-front leadership within the GOP is needed now more than ever. No matter what happens with the Republican presidential primary, there is an extremely favorable chance to retake the Senate in 2024. Can McConnell lead that charge and project to the public an air of competence and confidence? I have serious doubts.
Regardless, while I’m sure Biden counts McConnell as a friend, I also have serious doubts his defense of the senator is anything but cynical. There is an encyclopedia’s worth of examples of the current president becoming confused in public, physically falling down, and just generally appearing to be senile. Biden defending someone of his same age is very convenient when he knows age-related questions will hound his re-election effort.
Still, the comparison doesn’t actually work. While McConnell can legitimately claim to be recovering from an injury (as thin of an excuse as that is), Biden isn’t injured as far as we know. Rather, he’s just an old man who is losing his cognitive abilities, and a person doesn’t “recover” from that as they age further.
So while the press is going to claim that McConnell’s issues somehow excuse clear Biden’s mental decline, they don’t. They don’t in the sense that both should retire, but they also don’t in the sense that Biden’s issues are not comparable to McConnell’s.