Watch: Mitch McConnell freezes, gets escorted from crucial press conference

During press conference, Mitch McConnell appeared to freeze up and stared vacantly for around 20 seconds

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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. usatoday.com
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. usatoday.com 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell briefly left his own press conference on Wednesday after stopping his remarks mid-sentence and staring off into space for several seconds.

McConnell approached the podium for his weekly press conference and began speaking about the annual defense bill on the floor, which he said was proceeding with "good bipartisan cooperation." But he then appeared to lose his train of thought, trailing off with a drawn-out "uh."

He then appeared to freeze up and stared vacantly for around 20 seconds before his colleagues in Republican leadership, who were standing behind him and could not see his face, grabbed his elbows and asked if he wanted to go back to his office.

Asked about what happened, McConnell said he was "fine." He did not elaborate.

A McConnell aide said he felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment. The aide requested anonymity to speak about the senator's health.

McConnell, 81, was out of the Senate for almost six weeks earlier this year after falling and hitting his head. His office later said he suffered a concussion and fractured a rib. His speech has recently sounded more halting, prompting questions among some of his colleagues about his health.

After the press conference, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a former orthopedic surgeon who is the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, walked McConnell down the hall to ensure everything was fine. Barrasso said, "I said I was concerned when he fell and hit his head a number of months ago and was hospitalised. And I think he's made a remarkable recovery, he's doing a great job leading our conference and was able to answer every question the press asked him today."

The incident has raised renewed concerns about McConnell's health and ability to fulfill his duties as Senate Minority Leader. With his lengthy political career and representing Kentucky for nearly 40 years, his well-being has become a subject of heightened interest, especially given the age of US leaders coming under scrutiny.

While some of his colleagues express confidence in his recovery and leadership, others remain vigilant about his health given the recent episode and previous injury. As McConnell continues to lead the Senate, attention will be on his performance in the coming weeks and how he addresses any potential health-related concerns.