Mitch McConnell’s health reignites concerns of age and double standards

Critics say Republican silence over the 81-year-old senator's health scare is hypocritical, given how vocal they have been about President Biden, who is 80.

As questions swirl around the health status of Senator Mitch McConnell after the GOP leader froze while taking questions from reporters for a second time, the topic of age and whether Republicans criticizing President Joe Biden are holding a double standard have reignited. 

During a press conference on Wednesday in Kentucky, McConnell, 81, froze just before answering a question from a reporter about whether he will seek reelection in 2026. A similar incident happened last month during a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on July 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Political experts say the longtime Kentucky senator’s apparent health issues are deeply concerning.

“Mitch McConnell isn’t just a senator from anywhere. He’s the Senate minority leader, which means he’s in charge of leading his party, not just in committees but in policy and ideas,” said Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University.

She told theGrio, “It is apparent that he’s not well, and there’s been a decline in his communication skills with the American public in the past few months.”

On Thursday, an attending physician on Capitol Hill confirmed that McConnell suffered from “occasional lightheadedness” due to a previous concussion he suffered after a fall in March. The physician said in a letter that he was “medically clear” to continue work. However, it is unlikely that the letter will quell chatter about McConnell’s physical or mental fitness.

Critics say Republican lawmakers have been noticeably silent about McConnell’s health concerns, despite many prominent GOP politicians hitting President Joe Biden for his age and suggesting that he is not cognitively equipped for the job and, subsequently, reelection.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley went as far as to say that “if you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President [Kamala] Harris.” She told Fox News Channel, “The idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”

Antjuan Seawright, a political strategist who has advised several Democratic campaigns, told theGrio that Republicans have to “look in the mirror within their own party and think before they speak.” He continued, “Especially considering Leader McConnell’s age and considering that Donald Trump, the leader of their party and leading presidential candidate, is certainly not a young political figure himself.”

Suggestions by conservatives that a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris to be president in the event that he is not able to finish out a potential second term is not only a swipe at Biden’s age but at Harris as a Black and South Asian daughter of immigrants, says Greer.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk back to the Oval Office after an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“That will be an effective strategy because, for some voters, they will never vote for a Black Indian person,” said the political scientist. She added, “There are a lot of Americans, men and women, who will never vote for a woman.”

However, Seawright predicted that using Harris to criticize Biden’s age would backfire in the 2024 presidential election. “I don’t think they understand the more they double down, the more…Black voters will come around and unite behind the first Black woman to ever serve in one of the highest offices in the world.”

Whether legitimate or not, age is likely a prominent feature of the 2024 election cycle. A recent poll by AP-NORC found that 77% of adults think Biden is too old to “effectively” serve another four years as president. Fifty-five percent said the same about Trump.  

“A certain segment of the population will always consider age and change,” said Seawright, who noted that Biden “promised to be a transitional president.” However, the former Democratic National Committee senior adviser argued that despite his age, Biden has been effective and productive as president.

“There’s not a constituency in this country who have not benefited from the Biden-Harris administration,” he said. “Productivity means more so than anything else when it comes to the leader of the free world.”

As for McConnell, Greer said if he were to retire from the Senate, where he served for nearly 40 years, politics in Washington could change drastically.

“Even though his morals were, I would say, sometimes shaken dealing with Donald Trump, he’s one of the last vestiges of a senator that sort of did think about working across the aisle,” she said. Some of the younger and “ambitious” Republican senators are a bit more “media-hungry” and less concerned about bipartisanship, Greer explained.

She added, “So with McConnell gone, I don’t know what the Republican Senate looks like.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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