After freezing up during a Wednesday press conference for the second time in roughly one month, chatter has grown about the increasingly apparent need for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to resign from office or, at the very least, relinquish his leadership position.
Indeed, even the influential editorial board at the conservative National Review, which has consistently cheerleaded McConnell's lengthy tenure as leader, asserted on Thursday that the aged senator "needs to step aside," according to The Hill.
It was on Wednesday that Sen. McConnell, while taking questions from reporters at an event in Kentucky, appeared to freeze up and was unable to move or speak for about 30 seconds, even with assistance from an aide.
BREAKING NEWS: Sen. Mitch McConnell appearing to have another scary episode in the media gaggle in Covington today. Aides had to step in to help him out and repeat questions. He was eventually lead away. We'll have the full video on @WLWT pic.twitter.com/q9ex5MHxLV
— Hannah Thomas (@HannahPThomas) August 30, 2023
The concerning incident was remarkably similar to one that occurred roughly one month earlier during a press conference at the Capitol building when the 81-year-old senator also froze up for around 30 seconds while taking questions and had to be escorted away from the podium by fellow members of the Senate GOP leadership team.
In both of those instances, McConnell's office has blamed his momentary inability to speak on "lightheadedness" that is a lingering effect of a concussion he suffered, along with a broken rib, in a fall in March during an event that he is still not fully recovered from.
On Thursday, the National Review editors published a piece that praised Sen. McConnell for his leadership and longevity but nonetheless declared that "the time has come for the Kentucky senator, after his long, impressive run, to make the decision to step aside from leadership."
Noting the "lightheadedness" excuses from McConnell's office and the congressional physician, they wrote, "To the layman, the incidents looked more concerning than that. Regardless, this obviously is not normal and affects his ability to function as the leading representative of his caucus."
"McConnell has noticeably aged since his bad fall in March, when he sustained a concussion and broken rib, and he should want, for his own sake and that of his colleagues, to go out on his own terms," the editors continued. "The details can be left to McConnell, who deserves a large measure of deference. A leadership transition doesn’t need to happen urgently, but the wheels should be turning."
They went on to suggest that McConnell could borrow a page from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) playbook and step down from his leadership without resigning fully from the Senate, where he would undoubtedly remain highly influential, but nevertheless concluded, "Prudence and realism have been hallmarks of his leadership and now are called for in considering his own future."
Meanwhile, if Sen. McConnell refuses to step aside from leadership, Politico reported that there is a quiet ongoing discussion among a handful of unnamed Republican senators to potentially try to force a leadership change once the Senate is back in session following the end of the August recess.
Notably, that reported discussion is being held among "rank-and-file" members and doesn't involve "Party leadership." At issue is whether or not to force a "special conference meeting" -- which requires only five members to jointly call one -- to directly discuss among the entire caucus whether McConnell is still capable of serving effectively in his leadership position.
If McConnell were to step aside, or be forced out by rank-and-file members, then he would most likely be replaced by another member of the Senate GOP leadership team, which includes Sens. John Thune (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-TX), and John Barrasso (R-WY), not to mention Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and the possibility that someone from outside the current leadership team, which remains fully in support of McConnell, could make a play for the top spot.
Politico noted that this potential challenge against McConnell's continued leadership comes at a critical time in September as the Senate will be wrangling with deadlines for appropriations bills to fund the government and a possible government shutdown if no agreements on spending are reached, among a plethora of other pressing matters that require legislative attention.