Mitch McConnell, the longtime Republican Senator from Kentucky and the Senate Minority Leader, is returning to work on Monday after a six-week absence due to a fall at a hotel in the Washington area. The 81-year-old senator sustained a concussion and fractured rib from the incident, requiring extended treatment and rehabilitation.
McConnell’s return comes as Congress prepares to tackle several critical policy issues, including raising the nation’s debt ceiling and negotiating additional aid for the Ukraine war. It also comes at a time when several other senators, including Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Fetterman, have been out for medical reasons, raising concerns about the Senate’s ability to achieve progress with a narrow 51-49 split between the parties.
In a tweet last Thursday, McConnell expressed his enthusiasm for returning to the Senate and working on behalf of Kentuckians and the American people. “We’ve got important business to tackle and big fights to win,” he wrote.
McConnell’s absence, along with the absences of other senators, has already contributed to a slow pace in the Senate this year. Unlike the last two years, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was able to push through key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda with the help of a Democratic-led House, the Senate has been significantly slowed with Republicans now in charge in the House. Absences have made even simple votes, such as nominations, more difficult.
One of the immediate questions for McConnell upon his return is whether to help Democrats temporarily replace Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee as she continues to recover in California from a case of shingles. Her absence on the panel has stalled the confirmation of some of Biden’s nominees, and Feinstein has asked for a short-term substitute on the committee.
Democrats cannot do that without help from Republicans, since approval of the process would take 60 votes on the Senate floor. Republicans have yet to indicate whether they will object.
It is unclear when Feinstein, 89, will return to Washington. Her office has so far declined to comment.
Also returning to the Senate on Monday is Fetterman, who was hospitalized for clinical depression in February. He was treated for six weeks at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and his doctors say his depression is now “in remission.”
Fetterman’s announcement that he was checking himself into the hospital earlier this year came after he suffered a stroke last year and has struggled with auditory processing disorder, which can render someone unable to speak fluidly and quickly process spoken conversation into meaning. The Pennsylvania Democrat, 53, now uses devices in conversations, meetings, and congressional hearings that transcribe spoken words in real time.
In a statement when he was released from Walter Reed late last month, Fetterman said the care he received there “changed my life.”
“I’m excited to be the father and husband I want to be, and the senator Pennsylvania deserves,” said Fetterman, who won praise for his decision to seek treatment.
When McConnell visited his Capitol office on Friday, video captured by NBC News showed him walking into the building without assistance as aides kept close by.
This is the second major injury for McConnell in recent years. Four years ago, he tripped and fell at his home in Kentucky, causing a shoulder fracture that required surgery. The Senate had just started a summer recess, and he worked from home for several weeks as he recovered.
McConnell had polio in his early childhood, and he has long acknowledged some difficulty as an adult in climbing stairs.