WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he was disturbed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suddenly freezing during an event Wednesday that raised questions about the 81-year-old Republican leader’s health and reopened chatter about his succession.
“It’s troubling. It’s frightening,” Cruz, R-Texas, said Wednesday during a Newsmax interview. “Age is something that all of us experience, and it’s coming for all of us.”
It was the second time this summer that McConnell had such an episode. The Kentuckian had a similar freeze in July during a weekly Senate Republican leadership news conference, prompting aides and fellow senators to escort him from the lectern. McConnell also had a fractured rib and concussion after falling in March, prompting him to be away from the Capitol for almost six weeks.
McConnell’s allies have projected confidence that he remains fit to lead the Republican conference. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is close to McConnell, spoke with him shortly after his freeze Wednesday, and McConnell assured Cornyn that he was fine.
Cruz redirected concern toward President Joe Biden, who at 80 has been subject to criticism from the right that he is too old. He is three years older than former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, and nearly twice the age of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican presidential hopeful.
“It's one thing if you're a senator, you’re one of 100, where the country can continue to do its business,” Cruz said. “It's another thing if you're the president of the United States.”
Brian Monahan, an attending physician for Congress, released a statement Thursday saying McConnell is “medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned.” The statement also said occasional “lightheadedness” often follows concussion recovery.
After McConnell’s July health incident, Cornyn said there was no contingency plan if McConnell needs to take time off again or step down. Cornyn said at the time he took “him at his word” that McConnell felt a little lightheaded and was fine.
That has not stopped discussions about a succession plan. Cornyn’s interest in one day becoming leader is well known in the Senate. He served as Republican whip from 2013-19 and continues to be close in McConnell’s orbit. Other potential contenders include Senate Minority Whip John Thune and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso.
Cruz, who at 52 is in the younger half of the Senate, mentioned that he’s seen a number of colleagues “who, at the tail end of their life, end up having very, very serious health issues.”
“I've seen both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate at a stage where they have very significant cognitive decline,” Cruz said without naming any particular members.
Cruz serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who took a monthslong leave to recover from a case of shingles. The 91-year-old has shown signs of memory loss that have led to questions about her ability to serve.
Cruz hasn’t shied in voicing his displeasure with McConnell in the past. When Senate Republicans reelected McConnell as their leader, Cruz vocally backed an opposing faction, expressing frustration that McConnell hadn’t taken a more aggressive approach to Democratic legislation.
“The Democrats actually have discipline to say, ‘We don’t support your agenda and we’ll block it,'” Cruz said on his podcast at the time. “Our leadership believes there is nothing worth actually fighting for, that we should surrender on everything.”
But he took a more sympathetic tone in his Wednesday interview, calling McConnell “tough and ornery and so I'm rooting for him to power through this.”
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