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Rand Paul doubts Capitol doctor provided 'valid medical diagnosis' of Mitch McConnell after freeze-up

“Everybody’s seen the clips. It’s not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that’s dehydration,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a physician.
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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., expressed skepticism about the conclusions in the Capitol attending physician’s letter about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after his apparent freeze-up last week.

Dr. Brian Monahan, the Capitol attending physician, confirmed in a letter Tuesday that he examined McConnell, R-Ky., after his latest incident in front of reporters last week at an event in Covington, Kentucky. In his letter, Monahan said “there is no evidence” McConnell has a seizure disorder or “experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson’s disease.”

Monahan also said in a statement last week that he had “consulted” with McConnell, 81, and “conferred” with his neurology team and determined that “he is medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned.” The doctor added: “Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Paul, who has practiced medicine as an eye doctor, said it’s better for senators to be “forthcoming about what’s going on with their health problems” as he questioned the Capitol doctor’s explanation of McConnell’s freeze-up last week.

“Obviously not being in the position — not seeing the X-rays, not seeing the radiology — I can really only comment, I guess, on what they have released,” Paul told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “And they have the Senate doctor saying he has a normal EEG,” a reference to an electroencephalogram.

He added: “The problem with saying someone has a normal EEG and saying they’re not having seizures is that people who have short seizures, well over 80% of them have normal EEGs. If you’re having longer seizures, you’re more likely, but even then only about half of them have abnormal EEGs. An EEG that’s done at one time on an office visit often will miss things. Even a 24-hour EEG might miss things.”

Paul said he doesn’t think the Capitol doctor provided “a valid medical diagnosis.”

“Everybody’s seen the clips,” he said. “It’s not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that’s dehydration.”

Paul declined to say whether he’s concerned about McConnell’s workload through the health problems: “I can’t really say anything on that. All I can say is it doesn’t look like dehydration.”

Asked whether he is confident in McConnell’s ability to lead the conference, Paul also declined to comment directly but said he thinks McConnell has “been up to the task.”

“And so this isn’t a criticism of him or anything — it’s a criticism of the way it’s being handled publicly, by giving a diagnosis that everybody thinks is a lot less than what it actually is,” Paul said. “So then people automatically think, ‘Wow, it’s a lot worse than it actually is.’ But it could be something very treatable. Seizures are treated. Many people in high-functioning jobs have seizures. Many seizures after trauma go away, but there’s a lot of things I don’t know.”

In remarks to NBC News on Wednesday, Paul doubled down on his statements: “If you’re giving advice on, you know, what someone’s potential diagnosis is, really it ought to be based on the facts. And what I can tell you is that having vacant spells of 30 seconds or more where you’re unresponsive is not a sign or a symptom of dehydration.”

Paul also stressed that he is “not questioning” McConnell’s ability to be in the Senate, but rather his diagnosis.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber as he returns to work at the Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber Tuesday as he returns to work at the Capitol. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Skepticism about McConnell’s health and ability to lead Senate Republicans increased after he froze last week at an event in Kentucky, appearing unable to speak for about half a minute after a reporter asked him whether he planned to run for re-election in 2026. The episode was his second apparent public freeze-up in two months.

McConnell also appeared to freeze for nearly 20 seconds in front of the TV cameras at a weekly leadership news conference in late July. The episode came weeks after McConnell, a polio survivor who has had difficulty walking on stairs and navigating other obstacles, fell as he got off a plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on July 14, NBC News reported. He wasn’t seriously hurt in the incident.

Before the apparent freeze-ups, McConnell also experienced a fall and concussion in March that sidelined him for nearly six weeks.

Other Republican colleagues extended their support.

“He’s still on his game mentally,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters Tuesday.

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota stood by McConnell, telling reporters Tuesday that they don’t have any concerns about his ability to serve.

“The reality is that we may expect that Mitch McConnell will check out for 20 seconds a day, but the other 86,380 seconds in the day, he does a pretty darn good job,” Romney told NBC News. “I don’t think he’s shown any inability to lead in negotiations, to raise money, to get Republicans elected, to help guide our caucus. He’s shown that he’s been able to do that in the past. He’s going to continue doing that in the future.”

Graham said he’ll “just trust the doctor’s evaluation.”

“I like Mitch, and, you know, let’s just move forward hoping that he’s in a good spot here," he said, adding that he was glad McConnell got checked.

Asked whether he has any concerns about McConnell’s ability to lead the GOP, Graham said: “No, I’m good.”

Cramer similarly said McConnell’s diagnosis from Monahan was “pretty encouraging.”

“I have no reason to doubt that that’s the truth, and it may very well be the truth. I think the thing we all have to not forget is that he did have a pretty serious fall not that long ago that caused a concussion. Maybe he came back to work too soon, who knows?” Cramer said. “But again, when you sit down and have a conversation with him, he’s really quite sharp. I’d still trust his judgment over most people’s that I know.”

CORRECTION (Sept. 6, 2023, 3:16 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the state Sen. Kevin Cramer represents. It is North Dakota, not South Dakota.