By Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most powerful figures in Washington, is being treated for a concussion and will remain hospitalized for a few days after tripping and falling, his spokesperson said on Thursday.
McConnell, who is 81 and was first elected to represent Kentucky in the Senate in 1984, “tripped at a dinner event Wednesday evening and has been admitted to the hospital and is being treated for a concussion,” spokesperson David Popp said in a statement.
“He is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days of observation and treatment,” Popp added.
McConnell has been awake and talking to people, according to Republican Senator John Barrasso, a member of his leadership team.
“He’ll be fine. He’s going to be observed,” Barrasso said. “I expect he’s going to make a full recovery and be back here next week.”
McConnell’s legislative skills have torpedoed many Democratic initiatives over the years, both when his party held a majority in the chamber and when Democrats have held the edge, as they currently do.
He has long been criticized by Democrats, particularly for his tactics that allowed Republicans to build a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, including having the Senate refuse to consider a 2016 nomination to the high court by Democratic then-President Barack Obama.
McConnell has also drawn the ire of Donald Trump, including for rejecting the Republican former president’s false claims that his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden was the result of widespread voting fraud.
He has maintained his support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion last year even as some far-right Republicans have questioned U.S. aid for the Ukrainians.
With Republicans now holding a narrow 222-213 majority in the House of Representatives, McConnell has so far stayed out of the limelight in the debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, leaving talks to Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
McConnell has faced other health issues in recent years, including a broken shoulder in 2019 after falling in his Kentucky home.
Falls are the leading cause of deaths by injury among U.S. adults 65 and older and caused more than 36,000 deaths in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Currently serving his seventh six-year term, which runs through 2026, McConnell is the third U.S. senator to be hospitalized in recent weeks. Democrat John Fetterman is being treated for depression, while Democrat Dianne Feinstein was discharged to recuperate at home following a bout with shingles.
McConnell served as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2021 and as Senate minority leader since then. Democrats, including three independents who vote with them, currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
A former judge-executive of Kentucky’s Jefferson County, McConnell has helped steer the federal judiciary sharply to the right, having the Senate speedily confirm Republican nominees including Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees.
Senate Republicans this year re-elected McConnell as their leader. Senator Rick Scott of Florida challenged McConnell for the right to lead the Republican caucus with the backing of other Trump allies including Senator Josh Hawley.
Some of McConnell’s colleagues in both parties wished him well.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said, “I join every single one of my colleagues in wishing Leader McConnell a speedy and full recovery now.”
While his efforts to sink liberal initiatives led him to dub himself the “Grim Reaper,” McConnell’s absence in the Senate could further inflame divisions within his party. McConnell has stood as a bulkhead against Trump’s “Make American Great Again” faction even as the former president has attacked him and his wife, Elaine Chao.
McConnell condemned the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters but ultimately voted to acquit the former president on a House-approved impeachment charge of incitement of insurrection even as he held him “practically and morally responsible.”
Trump has accused McConnell of being a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, calling him an “old crow” and lobbing repeated racist attacks against Chao, who served as U.S. transportation secretary under Trump but resigned after the Jan. 6 attack.
McConnell has declined to say whether he would back Trump’s 2024 re-election bid but has said he would support the ultimate Republican nominee.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey, additional reporting by David Morgan and Nancy Lapid; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Andy Sullivan and Paul Simao)