Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared his health is “just fine” Tuesday as he declined to explain photographs last week showing his hands bruised and bandaged.
The 78-year-old dismissed the issue as a media fixation, despite his own history of health issues related to his heart and a serious fall last year that left him out of the public eye for five weeks.
“I can just tell you that I’m just fine. And I can’t believe y’all have played with that all week long,” McConnell said in a telephone interview as he traveled back to Kentucky for the final week of a reelection campaign in which he is asking voters for a seventh, six-year term.
McConnell, who overcame polio at a young age, suffered a fall in early August 2019 that he blamed on an old tennis shoe as he walked out of his home in Louisville, suffering a fractured shoulder that required follow-up surgery and weeks of physical therapy. He spent that entire stretch at home, missing several fundraisers around the nation and planned events in his state during a long congressional break.
He wore a shoulder brace for several weeks when he returned to Washington that September, and ever since aides have warned reporters and photographers about getting too close to the leader when he walks to and from his office toward the Senate chamber.
In Tuesday’s interview with The Washington Post, McConnell noted that he delivered a series of fiery speeches over the last week promoting the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett as proof positive that he has no health issues that should concern his constituents or his colleagues.
“Did you watch any of my speeches? Are you familiar? I am just fine,” he said.
By Monday night’s speech, just before the confirmation vote, McConnell waved his hands and gesticulated toward Republicans about the vote, with the bruises that covered both hands just a week earlier having faded.
Last week McConnell walked at times in public with his right hand in his pocket, a familiar pose for the leader but one that also made it difficult to determine how his hands were healing.
First asked about the issue a week ago, McConnell was just as blunt when asked if he had health issues. “Of course not,” he told reporters in the Capitol.
In 2003, just after being promoted to the No. 2 leadership post, McConnell underwent triple bypass heart surgery and missed some time before returning to his position.
In 2007, McConnell became Republican leader, a job he has held for almost 14 years, the longest run of any GOP leader in history.
He expects to be reelected for another two-year term as leader next month, and if he remains leader into 2023, McConnell will eclipse Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., who served as Democratic leader from 1961 to 1977, as the longest-serving floor leader in Senate history.
In recent weeks he has admitted that he has not been to the White House since early August because President Trump and his team do not practice the same social distancing and mask-wearing protocols that are used in the Capitol to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.
McConnell did not join several Republican senators who attended an outdoor White House ceremony Monday night in which Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath swearing in Barrett an hour after the Senate vote.
McConnell also skipped a Rose Garden event Sept. 26 in which Trump unveiled Barrett as his pick, a ceremony that later was deemed a superspreader event. Numerous attendees were later diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including the president and first lady Melania Trump, two GOP senators and the president of the University of Notre Dame.
McConnell has declined to say whether he has been tested for the coronavirus. When his challenger, Democrat Amy McGrath, called on all participants to be tested before a debate in Kentucky this month, McConnell issued a statement: “I have followed CDC guidelines entirely, adhered to my physician’s advice regarding testing, and have never exhibited any symptoms during the COVID pandemic.”
McConnell is adamant that his health is fine, not an issue for Kentucky voters.
“It is not an issue with me,” he said.