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Sen. Mitch McConnell appears to freeze again while talking to reporters in Kentucky

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For the second time in five weeks, the top Republican in the Senate abruptly went silent at a news conference.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to freeze briefly after a reporter in northern Kentucky asked whether he would run for reelection. He never answered that question, but these episodes, which have been largely unexplained, have raised concerns about an aging Congress, including in McConnell's home state.

MARTÍNEZ: Louisville Public Media's Sylvia Goodman is here to tell us more. Sylvia, so what happened yesterday?

SYLVIA GOODMAN, BYLINE: So Senator Mitch McConnell spoke at an event up in Covington, Ky. - which is right across the river from Cincinnati - for about 20 minutes. And right afterwards, he went to speak to a group of reporters. They were asking questions. And as he was about to answer, he suddenly went silent. He seemed unable to speak. An aide stepped in, tried repeating questions for him, trying to keep things moving along. All told, the senator was silent for about 30 seconds. He eventually did tell his aides that he was fine. He answered a couple more questions before he was led away. McConnell's office said later that he was feeling lightheaded but that he'll be seeing a doctor before his next event. But this is the second time this has happened publicly. At the end of July, he had a really similar kind of scary moment on Capitol Hill while answering reporter questions.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. That was five weeks ago. Now, other senators have also struggled with their health recently. I know California senator Dianne Feinstein, 90 years old, or - there have been calls for her to step down after she was absent for months, missed dozens of votes. What's the mood like in Kentucky on McConnell?

GOODMAN: So earlier this month, I went to the annual Fancy Farm Political Picnic, which is out in rural western Kentucky. And this was right after that first episode. And many of the people I spoke with did bring up term limits. For example, Katima Smith-Willis said she thought it might be the only way to see more young people in Congress.

KATIMA SMITH-WILLIS: We are the future. We're the next generation. If we don't get in these seats and take these seats, we're not going to have a good state to be in. So definitely. We definitely need term limits. We need them expeditiously.

GOODMAN: And actually, our other U.S. Senator, Rand Paul, has proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits before. A few years ago, he signed a pledge calling for no more than three terms for representatives and two terms for senators, although, of course, Rand Paul has just started his third Senate term.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, do McConnell's constituents and other political figures in Kentucky see his long years of service as a benefit?

GOODMAN: So McConnell was first elected to the Senate in 1984, and he's the longest serving party leader in Senate history. Many of the people I spoke with at that political picnic did thank McConnell for his service and said he had done a lot of great things for Kentucky, but some of them were ready for a change. Here's John Shindlebawer, who was there to support the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

JOHN SHINDLEBAWER: I appreciate some of the things he's done in his career, but we need somebody new. So yeah, I'm ready for him to ride off in the sunset.

GOODMAN: And this is Gerald Morris, who usually votes for Democrats.

GERALD MORRIS: You know, after a while, you have to change tires on the car after 40,000. They've been in there 40 years. So, you know, it's time for a change.

GOODMAN: If, for whatever reason, McConnell were to vacate his seat, then that change is already decided to some extent. Soon after he wins reelection, McConnell advocated for a new state law which took away a lot of the appointment power from the governor and gave it to the party of the vacating senator, although some Democrats are expecting legal challenges to that system.

MARTÍNEZ: That reminds me, I got to go check the tread on my tires. Sylvia Goodman from Louisville Public Media. Sylvia, thanks.

GOODMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Sylvia Goodman
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