Mitch McConnell escorted away from cameras after freezing mid-press conference

McConnell, R-Ky., had been making his opening remarks and suddenly stopped talking

NBC Universal, Inc.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suddenly stopped speaking during a weekly Republican leadership news conference Wednesday afternoon, appearing to freeze, and then went silent and was walked away.

McConnell, R-Ky., had been making his opening remarks about an annual defense policy bill when he stopped talking. The Republican leader was silent for 19 seconds.

His Republican colleagues asked if he was OK, and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a top McConnell deputy who previously worked as a physician before serving in Congress, escorted McConnell, 81, away from the cameras and reporters.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa made a hand gesture that initially appeared to resemble the sign of the cross. But her office later clarified that she was motioning for Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

A few minutes later, McConnell walked back to the news conference by himself. When asked about his health, he said he was fine. Asked whether he is fully able to do his job, McConnell said, "Yeah."

For more on this story, go to NBC News.

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