(WASHINGTON) — There’s optimism in the Republican conference about the health of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after lawmakers were briefed on McConnell’s condition by his longtime aide and current chief of staff, Sharon Soderstrom, during a closed-door lunch on Thursday.
Sodesterom told the members that her boss is alert, talking and expected to make a full recovery from a fall and concussion he suffered while attending a dinner at a Washington hotel on Wednesday night.
“Wish him well. He’s a tough old crow, so my money is on Mitch,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in the chamber and a doctor, confirmed that McConnell, who is 81, has been up and speaking.
“He’s gonna be observed, which is a concussion protocol,” Barrasso said. “I expect him to make a full recovery and be back here next week.”
“I’m told he’s in good spirits, so that tells me that he’s recovering well,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., also a physician.
When asked if it is unusual to keep McConnell in the hospital for multiple days, Cassidy said he would not “second-guess the doctors. He is the majority leader, right? So it may just be that it’s a little dose of being extra careful. But there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Another doctor-turned-senator, Kansas Republican Roger Marshall, said that the care McConnell is receiving is “typical” of a concussion. He “absolutely” expects McConnell to make a full recovery, he said.
It remains unclear when McConnell will return to the Senate. Some Republicans are optimistic it could be as soon as next week.
“Leader McConnell tripped at a dinner event Wednesday evening and has been admitted to the hospital and is being treated for a concussion. He is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days of observation and treatment,” McConnell’s communications director, David Popp, told ABC News Thursday afternoon in a statement. “The Leader is grateful to the medical professionals for their care and to his colleagues for their warm wishes.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said after Thursday’s conference lunch that “hopefully he’ll be back next Tuesday when kind of we’re up and running.”
“Just knowing him, I’m sure he’s watching C-SPAN,” Rubio said.
While McConnell recovers, he has a care package on the way. Every year, right around the time of the Iditarod, the famed sled dog race, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski hosts a smorgasbord of her state’s favorite foods — salmon, her mom’s recipe for halibut and reindeer sausage.
McConnell, she said, loves the halibut.
“When I saw the news last night that the leader was in the hospital, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to miss his favorite lunch!’ So I made sure that he had a little to-go pack to make sure that it’s gonna lift his spirits,” Murkowski told ABC News.
“They just said that, you know, he’s in good spirits,” Murkowski continued. “Hopefully now he’ll be in better spirits,” she said. “What we’re all doing is just making sure that he follows doctor’s orders.”
Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy described his party’s Senate leader — the longest-serving person ever in that role — as “tough as a boot … He’s gonna be fine.”
“The report was very encouraging,” said Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
McConnell’s Kentucky colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, said senators had learned nothing more than what was released publicly but repeatedly said, “We wish him well.”
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, South Dakota’s John Thune, said he did not want to “speculate” on whether the chamber was preparing to run without McConnell present next week.
“We’ll get him back as soon as possible. I think it’s just a question of when,” Thune said.
In either case, his absence will be felt.
“He is essential to the leadership of how the Senate works. There’s a lot of negotiations that take place between [Democratic] leader [Chuck] Schumer and leader McConnell as to what will come to the fore and what will be the process,” Cassidy said, “and no one does it better than Mitch. And so we’re looking forward to him coming back quickly.”
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