Fetterman declined to specify which debate he will be attending or provide an exact date for it, although he said it will “take place between the middle and the end of October” on a “major television network” from the state.
He also said the campaign is considering the possibility of using a closed captioning monitor for the event so he doesn’t miss a word as he continues to recover from his stroke.
“We’re just exploring that,” he said of captioning. “I have all the capacity to talk about all of these issues and have a full debate. And that’s really just the only lingering issue with the stroke – that some of my hearing was damaged a bit, but it continues to improve day by day.
Oz, which trails Fetterman in the polls, has sought for weeks to paint the Democrat as skipping debates either because he can’t defend his record or because he’s too ill to take the stage. The attacks were ugly at times, with an Oz wizard saying that Fetterman might not have suffered a stroke if he had already eaten vegetables, a statement from which the famed doctor later distanced himself.
The last broadside came on Tuesday, when Oz held a press conference with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), where he argued, “John Fetterman is either in good health and he dodges debates because he does not want to answer for his radical left positions, or he is too ill to participate in the debate. Toomey also suggested that Fetterman might not be able at serve in the Senate due to his lingering effects of stroke.
“I’ve worked with senators from both parties, unfortunately, who have seriously diminished intellectual or communication abilities, and I can tell you that’s a very different thing,” Toomey said. “It’s really hard to be an effective voice for your constituents if you can’t engage in that way.”
Asked about Fetterman’s engagement in the debate, Oz spokesman Barney Keller said, “Is it possible to quote someone laughing?”
Oz and his Republican allies aren’t the only ones who have pushed Fetterman to debate. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board wrote this week that if Fetterman “is not well enough to debate his opponent, that raises serious concerns about his ability to serve as a United States Senator”. The newspaper also criticized the “fantasies” of the Oz campaign.
In Wednesday’s interview, Fetterman fired back at Toomey, the Republican that he is running to replace after the senator announced in 2020 that he would retire at the end of that term. Fetterman said there was “no dignity” in Toomey’s comments and accused him of not being transparent in his dealings with Pennsylvanians.
“Here is a man who is a coward, and he left the Senate because he understands he can’t be re-elected,” Fetterman said. “He’s a man who doesn’t have town meetings or has ever really had any interaction with voters.”
He also slammed Oz, saying his attacks on debate dodging were a “false narrative of a very desperate campaign” that is “trying to capitalize on the fact that I have a stroke.” He insisted his plan was still to debate Oz.
“Dr. Oz is betting very, very big on making fun of someone who’s dealing with a major health issue,” he said, “because there’s a lot of people all over the Pennsylvania who, whether they have themselves, or have loved ones in their lives, who have real challenges.
Oz said at his press conference on Tuesday that the first debate with Fetterman is expected to take place within the next 10 days. Oz agreed to a debate this week with KDKA-TV, but according to the news station, the Fetterman campaign said the time wasn’t feasible, though it didn’t rule out a future event.
The first Senate debate in the 2016 Pennsylvania general election was held on October 17, while the inaugural debate in 2018 was held on October 20.
Republicans have said the debates should take place earlier this year than in previous campaigns because, unlike in 2016 or 2018, no-excuse mail-in voting is now legal in Pennsylvania. Fetterman dismissed that argument as a “lame tactic,” saying the GOP opposes voting by mail.
“I also want to point out that there is literally no precedent for holding debates in Pennsylvania, or any state as far as I know, on Labor Day,” he said. . “All these debates have always taken place in the middle to the end of October.”
Fetterman held his first public event after his stroke, a rally, in August. He’s made a handful of public campaign stops since then, including appearing at a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh this week. His conversation with POLITICO was his fourth interview with the media. He has also spoken to MSNBC, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and KDKA-TV.
Fetterman conducted the interview on Google Meet, a video chat app, for approximately 17 minutes using closed captioning. He sometimes missed words while speaking, but spoke at a normal pace and answered a number of questions on topics ranging from debates to marijuana politics. He did not ask to see the questions in advance.
When asked if his doctors had given him a time frame to overcome his auditory processing issues, he replied, “It may take six months. But no one really knows. He added that “what I know is that it gets better and better every day”.
Fetterman said his physical health was good and he walked five to six miles a day. He also defended his campaign as a regular campaign that includes rallies, interviews, fundraisers and voter talks.
“I feel really good physically,” he said. “I feel better than I have in a very long time,” he said. “And all of our doctors never thought we had any physical limitations, and all of them think I’m going to make a full recovery as well.”