Fetterman campaign says stroke recovery factor in fall debate plans


Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman’s Senate campaign said Wednesday that his recovery from a stroke, which complicated his ability to engage in verbal conversations, could influence his debate plans with Republican nominee Mehmet Oz in one of the the most important races of this fall.

“We’re working to understand what a fair debate would look like with the lingering impacts of auditory processing in mind,” said Rebecca Katz, Fetterman campaign strategist. “To be absolutely clear, the occasional problems he has with auditory processing have no bearing on his ability to do his job as a senator. John is healthy and fully capable of showing up and getting the job done.”

Counselors say Fetterman can engage in one-on-one conversations, but struggles with more chaotic auditory environments, a condition that is common among stroke survivors and which doctors say can s improve over time.

Fetterman, who returned to the electoral campaign on August 12, has yet to agree to a debate despite assurances from his advisers that he plans to meet Oz, a famous cardiologist, on stage. He announced on Tuesday that he would not attend a proposed debate on September 6, after the Oz campaign released a statement which Fetterman said showed “they think it’s funny to make fun of of a stroke survivor.

The Oz campaign, which is pushing for five debates, including two next week, pledged in a sarcastic statement on Tuesday to “pay any additional medical personnel” Fetterman may need during the debates, allow Fetterman to use notes or an earphone and to allow Fetterman to take bathroom breaks as needed. The Republican National Senate Committee, which supports Oz, doubled down on its line of attack on Wednesday, calling Fetterman a “whiny coward” who is “too weak and weak” to debate.

“If you are too unhealthy to debate, you are too unhealthy to serve in the US Senate where it can be 10 times more intense,” the unsigned NRSC statement said.

The growing tensions highlight an extraordinary dynamic unfolding in a race seen as key to deciding which party will control the Senate next year. Republicans are trying to make Fetterman’s health and campaign explanation a liability this fall after Fetterman suffered a stroke in mid-May and only later revealed a fuller picture of his medical background.

Fetterman and his allies, seeking to show he can serve in demanding work despite a tough recovery, entered the fight just as aggressively, calling the attacking broadsides a disgrace to a struggling rival.

Since returning to in-person events, Fetterman’s speeches have been limited to around 10 minutes and occasionally pause. He mostly avoided public interactions with reporters and voters, beyond rope work. He conducted two one-on-one Zoom interviews with local news outlets that were done with real-time closed captioning to avoid gaps in the conversation. In both interviews, he revealed his persistent difficulty hearing and speaking.

“I’ll miss a word, or I might combine two words sometimes in a conversation. But that’s really the only problem and it’s getting better and better,” Fetterman told KDKA in Pittsburgh.

Fetterman’s campaign announced he would have his first national television interview since his stroke on MSNBC on Wednesday night. Oz and Republicans accused Fetterman of being unable to answer reporters’ questions.

Democrats and the Fetterman campaign have said they see attacks on him from Republicans as a sign of desperation that could backfire on Oz, which trailed Fetterman in early polls. A series of Democratic focus groups in August found little concern among swing voters about Fetterman’s health, with substantial sympathy for his continued recovery, according to a Democratic pollster who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private research.

During sessions, Democrats showed Swing voters videos of Fetterman speaking before and after the stroke to test concerns. Voters responded by saying they knew people who had had a stroke and that “it takes time” and expressed confidence that he would continue to improve, the pollster said.

Fetterman’s campaign responded to Oz on Wednesday with a video clip from a weekend campaign appearance, where he marveled at the approach of the Oz campaign.

“Can you even imagine that if you had a doctor who made fun of your disease or ridiculed it?” Fetterman said in Mercer County, a rural part of the state. “We are there right now. I’d like to think Dr. Oz might have really got it wrong if you were going to poke fun at someone who had a stroke.

Oz avoided indulging in the attacks himself, and on Tuesday he distanced himself from his own campaign to mock Fetterman for not eating enough vegetables before his stroke.

“I can only speak what I say,” Oz said in a radio interview.

The new attacks come as Fetterman continues to recover from a life-threatening clot that temporarily restricted blood flow to his brain. His campaign waited nearly two days after the stroke before telling the public he was in the hospital, then revealed weeks later that Fetterman had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2017, a separate condition that decreases amount of blood his heart can pump.

After the stroke, he was implanted with a pacemaker and a defibrillator to treat cardiomyopathyand Fetterman issued a public statement promising to take the medications he had stopped taking after his 2017 diagnosis.

Fetterman’s aides say he is fully committed to his campaign and regularly clocks several miles a day. After Oz backed away from his own campaign statements, Fetterman personally wrote a meme he circulated on Twitter that used images of musician Drake to mock those who disapprove of “making fun of beatings” but approve of “others making fun of beatings”, according to a person familiar with the events.

Dr. Joseph Schindler, clinical director of the Yale New Haven Comprehensive Stroke Center, said that without good clinical examination and an MRI of the brain, it is difficult to know what type of impairment a stroke survivor has. But he said the inability to filter out external stimuli, including background noise, is a common complaint of people who have suffered strokes. It may get better over time, but it doesn’t always, he said.

Schindler gave the example of a person who sits on a bench. When sitting down, the person feels the bench, but over time the brain filters this stimulus as it focuses on other things. But after a stroke, a person may not be able to, or ignore nearby conversation or background music, Schindler said.

“My experience is highly variable, and recovery often depends on the brain injury and where that injury is,” Schindler said.

The tenor of the campaign between Fetterman and Oz soured all summer, with Fetterman poking fun at Oz as an out-of-touch celebrity “in Gucci loafers” who has long lived in New Jersey and owns multiple properties around the world. . Oz responded by calling Fetterman a lenient liberal on the crime lurking in his basement.

“The Fetterman campaign completely insults the intelligence of Pennsylvania voters,” Oz Councilman Barney Keller said Wednesday. “It can only be one of two reasons: he lies about his ability to debate or he lies about his will to debate. He can’t have both at the same time.

Despite Oz’s own hesitations about attacks on Fetterman, the Republican campaign showed no regrets about its aggressive attacks on Fetterman’s health.

“Our staff told him to eat his vegetables and his staff employs two convicted murderers,” said an Oz adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the approach more openly. “We’ll let Pennsylvania decide.”

Fetterman, who had embraced criminal justice reforms including the legalization of recreational marijuana, employs Dennis and Lee Horton, brothers who spent 30 years in prison for a robbery and murder they say weren’t not have committed. They were recommended for clemency by the state Board of Pardons in 2020 and then released from life sentences, with support from Fetterman and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running as a Democratic candidate for governor. This year.

Fetterman called their release “a highlight of my career”.

“These brothers will not die in prison for a crime they did not commit,” he said. on Twitter in October.

Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) spent several hours Saturday with Fetterman at Demstock, an annual festival for rural Democrats. Casey said there were no issues with Fetterman’s ability to hear and respond during their interactions in a cavernous room, although his recovery is still evident.

“He sounded really good and really loud,” Casey said. “He’s not here yet, it takes time. I think most people understand that.

State Democrats are “not concerned at all,” Casey said. “Obviously he’s had a long road from having a stroke just before primary to where he is today, and he’s made remarkable progress in a relatively short time.”

TJ Rooney, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, hosted a virtual fundraiser for Fetterman a few weeks ago where the candidate spoke and then there was a Q&A with questions that people submitted in advance and were all read by the same donor on the call.

“His speech was definitely wrong, but he absolutely heard and understood the questions,” Rooney said. “His answers were confused, some words mixed up, but he clearly knew what was being asked.”

Leave a Comment