Pennsylvania lieutenant governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman’s health was the focus of a conversation he had with NBC News on Tuesday, during which he struggled to speak and understand the questions he was asked.
With Election Day just over three weeks away, Fetterman insisted that a near-fatal stroke he suffered in May wouldn’t affect his ability to serve in the United States Senate should he defeat Republican Mehmet Oz.
“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact,” he told NBC News’ Dasha Burns in his first in-person sit-down interview since the stroke. The Fetterman campaign required NBC to provide closed-captioning technology so that the lieutenant governor could read the questions as they were asked in order to understand and respond.
“I sometimes will hear things in a way that’s not perfectly clear. So I use captioning so I’m able to see what you’re saying on the captioning,” Fetterman explained.
NBC News noted that he occasionally stuttered and had trouble finding words during the interview. At one point he couldn’t articulate the word “empathetic” and instead said something that sounded like “emphetic.” But he denied that this was a difficulty.
“It was just about having to be thinking more, uh, sl, uh — slower — to just understand and that sometimes that’s kind of the processing that happens,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman suffered a stroke in May caused by a blood clot from his heart formed by atrial fibrillation. Doctors surgically implanted a pacemaking device with a defibrillator to monitor and regulate his heartbeat. At the time, Fetterman said doctors insisted there was “no cognitive damage,” but in subsequent campaign appearances he’s made several verbal slips that Republicans have called attention to while raising questions about his ability to serve.
Fetterman admitted to NBC News that his recovery “changes everything.”
“But it gets much, much better where I take in a lot. But to be precise, I use captioning, so that’s really the maijing — that’s the major challenge. And every now and then I’ll miss a word. Every now and then. Or sometimes I’ll maybe mush two words together. But as long as I have captioning, I’m able to understand exactly what’s being asked,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s battleground Senate race could determine which party will control the Senate next year, with Democrats currently holding a 50-50 majority and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. Both parties have poured millions of dollars into the contest
Republican candidate Dr. Oz has sought to make Fetterman’s health a major issue in the race. Oz has consistently trailed Fetterman in polls, but he has cut what was a double-digit lead for Fetterman in some surveys after the Senate primary in May to just a 3.7-point average differential by the end of September. He has attacked Fetterman for refusing to share his medical records with reporters and for only agreeing to one debate.
Burns pressed Fetterman on his refusal to disclose his medical records.
“If my doctor teams already said I’m fine, I’m not really sure that’s much more beyond transparent,” he replied, but Burns pointed out that the Fetterman campaign hasn’t provided any of his doctors for interviews with the press.
“Well, I mean, if they believed that I was ready to do that, and I’ve been able to successfully do that kind of campaigning, I think that demonstrates what they said and their opinions were pretty accurate,” Fetterman said. He insisted that he’s been transparent by presenting himself on the campaign trail, where voters can see him and decide for themselves whether he is fit to serve.
John Fetterman Discusses Health, Campaign In First Sit-Down Interview Since Stroke