By Jack Phillips
GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley doubled down on her call to mandate older politicians to take mental competency exams, coming after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) appeared to freeze during an event.
Last week, Mr. McConnell, 81, froze for a period of time while he was taking questions from reporters. He has since been cleared of his duties for the Senate, while some of his GOP colleagues said that he appears to be fine.
When she announced her presidential bid in February, Mrs. Haley, the former U.N. ambassador for the United States, said she would back mental exams for politicians aged 75 and older. She made reference to Mr. McConnell, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 83; President Joe Biden, 80; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is 90.
“I’m completely for mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75, and I’m not saying that to be disrespectful,” Mrs. Haley, who is polling at about 6 percent on average recently, told CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday morning. “Here you have Mitch McConnell, who has done great service to the country; you have Dianne Feinstein, who had a great career; you’ve got Nancy Pelosi, who has been there a long time. At what point do they get, it’s time to leave? They need to let a younger generation take over.”
She added that if the U.S. wants to improve its standing domestically and internationally, “we can’t do that if these individuals refuse to give up power,” adding that “this is a congressional problem.”
“They have to know when to leave,” Mrs. Haley added. “There’s a reason the American people want term limits. It’s because they don’t want people staying there forever. They don’t want people drunk on the power. They don’t want people to think they’re the only ones that know how to run Congress.”
In the interview, she again backed mental competency exams for Congress. “Tell us where you were born, name four words that start with the same letter. How many grandchildren do you have? These are basic questions that anyone should be able to answer,” Mrs. Haley said, coming days after she publicly described the Senate as “the most privileged nursing home in the country” while suggesting that Mr. McConnell resign.
Mr. McConnell’s incident last week was the second time he froze up in public in about the span of a month. In March, he also suffered a concussion and broke a rib after falling and hitting his head after a dinner event at a hotel.
The week, the Kentucky Republican’s office released a statement from Dr. Brian Monahan saying that he had consulted with Mr. McConnell and his neurology team and cleared the senator to continue with his schedule. He did not say if he had examined the Senate GOP leader personally, and he did not provide any additional details or a diagnosis.
“After evaluating yesterday’s incident, I have informed Leader McConnell that he is medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned,” the doctor’s short statement read. “Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration.”
Meanwhile, Mr. McConnell’s office has only said that he was feeling “momentarily lightheaded” when he froze up on Wednesday. An aide eventually came to his assistance and repeated questions for him, and he gave brief answers before leaving the room.
The episode was strikingly similar to the incident in July, when he froze mid-sentence for around 20 seconds before fellow Republicans and an aide came to his assistance and led him back to his office. He then returned to the news conference and answered additional questions.
President Joe Biden said he spoke to Mr. McConnell on Thursday and the senator “was his old self on the telephone.”
“It’s not at all unusual to have a response that sometimes happens to Mitch when you’ve had a severe concussion,” the president said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s part of the recovery, and so I’m confident he’s going to be back to his old self.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.