Three Johns:16

Sens. John Barrasso, Mitch McConnell, John Thune, and John Cornyn in 2016.
Sens. John Barrasso, Mitch McConnell, John Thune, and John Cornyn in 2016. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Peter Hamby
September 5, 2023

Congress is back in session today after the summer recess, and the biggest topic of conversation on Capitol Hill isn’t the possibility of a government shutdown, the size of the next Farm Bill, or even a possible House impeachment of Joe Biden. It’s the future of Mitch McConnell, and whether the longest-serving party leader in the history of the Senate can continue to steer his 48 Republican colleagues in the upper chamber after a second unsettling health episode that played out on camera in Kentucky last week.

We’ve all seen the clip by now: McConnell at a press conference in Covington, suddenly going mute, frozen and peering through his signature round spectacles into the middle distance, as his aides and reporters waited nervously for him to say something, anything. The moment looked almost identical to his “freeze up” at a press conference in the Capitol in July. It was also darkly ironic that the 81-year old McConnell seized up just as a reporter asked him for comment on whether he’ll run again in 2026, which would be his eighth term in the Senate.

I stopped trying to predict the future in politics a few years ago, probably around the time I filed my last story for CNN in 2015 about Jeb Bush becoming the likely G.O.P. presidential nominee. But I’ll tiptoe out on a limb here and say with confidence that McConnell won’t run again when his term expires in a few years. With or without the viral on-camera freeze-ups, McConnell is canny enough to know that his age and now-obvious health issues could turn a re-election campaign, at age 84, into an ugly spectacle. And McConnell, who is understandably a guardian of his own legacy, will presumably be more circumspect than egomaniacal.