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Mitch McConnell escorted away from cameras after freezing during a news conference

A few minutes later, the Senate minority leader walked back to the news conference by himself.
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WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suddenly stopped speaking during a weekly Republican leadership news conference Wednesday afternoon, appearing to freeze, and then went silent and was walked away.

McConnell, R-Ky., had been making his opening remarks about an annual defense policy bill when he stopped talking. He was silent for 19 seconds. His Republican colleagues asked whether he was OK, and a top McConnell deputy, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a physician, escorted McConnell, 81, away from the cameras and reporters.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa made a hand gesture that initially appeared to resemble the sign of the cross. Her office later clarified that she was motioning for Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

McConnell's freeze-up comes after he tripped and fell at the Washington-area airport earlier this month, as first reported by NBC News Wednesday night. McConnell was not seriously injured in the incident.

A few minutes later, McConnell walked back to the news conference by himself. Asked about his health, he said he was fine. Asked whether he is fully able to do his job, he said, "Yeah."

Asked about the episode, an aide pointed to McConnell’s saying, “I’m fine,” but the aide added that McConnell “felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment.”

"He came back to handle Q&A, which as everyone observed was sharp," the aide said.

McConnell spoke to reporters briefly Wednesday night as he left the Capitol and said, "The president called to check on me."

"I told him I got sandbagged," he joked.

A White House official and a spokesperson for the senator confirmed that President Joe Biden and McConnell spoke by phone Wednesday.

Asked by reporters how he was feeling, McConnell said, "I'm fine." He did not directly answer what happened earlier in the day or whether he saw a doctor.

McConnell tripped and fell March 8 after an event for the Senate Leadership Fund — a Republican super PAC aligned with McConnell and GOP leadership — at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington. He was hospitalized with a concussion and a minor rib fracture and was discharged March 13 before he entered rehab.

He didn't return to the Senate, however, until mid-April.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told NBC News on Wednesday that he met with McConnell after the Senate GOP leadership news conference for a regularly scheduled meeting "to catch up on both houses."

"He was good," McCarthy said. "There was no concerns about his health in the meeting."

McConnell has served in the Senate since 1985. He isn't up for re-election until the 2026 midterm elections.