John Fetterman and Dr. Oz go head-to-head: Democratic Senate hopeful garbles several answers during hour-long debate as he deals with post-stroke ‘auditory issues’ – while he and Republican TV personality tussle over fracking, crime and abortion
- Pennsylvania Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman at points struggled to get through his hour-long debate with Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz
- The after-effect’s of Fetterman’s stroke were on full display, as his campaign warned prior to the meeting there would be awkward pauses and errors
- Fetterman’s delivery was often halting and choppy, while Oz turned on the TV charm he honed over 13 seasons of TV
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman at points struggled to get through his hour-long debate with Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, as the after-effects of his May stroke were on full display.
Right out of the gate, the candidates went after each other – with Fetterman’s delivery often halting and choppy, while Oz turned on the charm he honed over 13 seasons of TV, smacking Fetterman for being ‘extreme.’
In advance of the debate – the only one for the Pennsylvania Senate race – Fetterman’s campaign had tempered expectations, saying there would be ‘awkward pauses’ and ‘delays and errors,’ because the Democrat would be reading closed captioning – due to his auditory processing issue.
The pauses and stumbles happened throughout the debate.
At one point Fetterman was asked to clarify his position on fracking, as moderators pointed to a 2018 interview, where the lieutenant governor expressed broad opposition to the practice, but not a ban.
‘I do support fracking – I don’t, I don’t – I support fracking, and I do support fracking,’ he answered.
At another point, when Fetterman was asked to specifically about charges Oz made about some the Democrat’s campaign ads being pulled down for being factually inaccurate, Fetterman, instead, stuck to the topic of abortion.
‘I’m going to let Mr. Fetterman respond specifically to the ads being pulled off the air, and we’re going to return to you, Mr. Oz,’ said one of the moderators.
Fetterman didn’t acknowledge the question.
‘Yeah, I want to look into the face of every woman in Pennsylvania. If you believe that the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs with Dr. Oz, than you have a choice, but if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs between you and your doctor, that’s what I fight for,’ Fetterman said. ‘Roe v. Wade for me, should be the law, he celebrated when it went down. And my campaign would fight for Roe v. Wade – and if given the opportunity to codify it into law.’
Fetterman’s performance was quickly panned by pundits.
‘I thought somebody should have invoked the mercy rule 20 minutes into the debate,’ said former Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent on CNN. ‘I don’t know if it’s the stroke, or he’s just a lousy debater or he doesn’t understand the issues. He was flustered, he was confused, he should not have been out there.’
‘If people watch that they’re going to question his capacity to serve,’ the anti-Trump Republican added.
Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman at points struggled to get through his hour-long debate with Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, as the after-effects of his May stroke were on full display
Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (left) debated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) Tuesday night in Harrisburg
Republican hopeful Dr. Mehmet Oz participated in the Pennsylvania Senate debate Tuesday night in Harrisburg
Chris Cuomo, now working for NewsNation, sang a similar tune.
‘John Fetterman struggled,’ Cuomo said. ‘He clearly is dealing with health issues that affect his ability to process and his ability to speak. Clearly, fitness for office is going to be on the table.’
‘That may not be fair, to some, for me to say, but if the voters aren’t talking about it, I’ll be shocked,’ the former CNN anchor added.
Over the course of the debate, Fetterman twice demurred to release his full medical record to the public.
‘My doctor ultimately believes that I’m fit to be serving and that’s what I believe,’ Fetterman said.
Both candidate opened the debate in attack mode.
‘I’m running to serve Pennsylvania, he’s running to use Pennsylvania,’ Fetterman said of Oz. ‘Here’s a man who spent more than $20 million of his own money to try and buy that seat.’
Fetterman also labeled Oz a ‘liar’ and chided the TV doctor for having 10 houses, pushing that he couldn’t understand the struggles of everyday Pennsylvanians. Fetterman blasted Oz for having products with his name on them made in China.
Right away Oz went after Fetterman on crime.
‘John Fetterman, during this crime wave, has been trying to get as many murderers – convicted and sentenced to life in prison – out of jail as possible,’ the TV doctor said.
Oz also hit Fetterman for not paying taxes.
‘It was helping students 17 years ago to help them buy their own homes. They didn’t pay the bills … It has never been an issue in any of the campaign before. It was all about non-profit,’ Fetterman responded to the charge.
Reports on tax liens against Fetterman and a community group he headed called Braddock Redux were in the local Pittsburgh news when he ran for Senate in 2016. Those liens were connected to properties he had purchased in Braddock, the steel town Pittsburgh suburb where he served as mayor.
‘When John Fetterman brings up houses, the irony is he didn’t pay for his own house, he got it for $1 from his sister. He hasn’t been able to earn a living on his own, he’s lived off his parents,’ Oz also charged.
‘He got his Pennsylvania house from his own in-lays for a $1,’ Fetterman hit back, mispronouncing in-laws.
After Oz said Fetterman had called the Pennsylvania energy industry a ‘stain’ on the state, the Democrat was better able to make a line stick.
‘He has never met an oil company he doesn’t swipe right about,’ Fetterman said.
Oz confirmed that he didn’t believe the minimum wage in Pennsylvania should be raised to $15 across the board, explaining he wanted to preserve the right for businesses to pay workers less.
‘I think market forces have already driven up the minimum wage,’ Oz said.
‘But John Fetterman thinks the minimum wage is the weekly allowance from his parents,’ Oz added.
On abortion, Oz said he didn’t think the federal government should handle the decision – suggesting he wouldn’t support Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 15-week federal abortion ban, though not answering the question directly.
Fetterman argued the decision should wholly be in women’s hands.
‘I want women, doctors, local political leaders, leading the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive,’ Oz said. ‘To put the best ideas where states can decide for themselves.’
Oz moderated his position on the debate stage, as he was previously captured calling abortion at any stage ‘murder.’
Fetterman also expressed that he wouldn’t vote to enlarge the size of the Supreme Court.
During a back-and-forth on fracking – that garnered quick attention post-debate for Fetterman’s confused response – both candidates were called out for shifting positions on whether the process, which is used to extricate natural gas from the ground, should continue.
Oz wrote in 2014 that no fracking should go on, pending health study results.
Since becoming a Senate candidate, Oz has fully backed it.
Oz claimed his position has been ‘consistent’ and that fracking has been found to be safe, and then lambasted the Democrat for being opposed to it.
Fracking risks include that it can pollute drinking water if not monitored properly.
‘I absolutely support fracking,’ Fetterman said. ‘In fact, I live across from a steel mill and they were going to frack to create their own energy to make them more competitive. And I support that, living closer to anybody else in Pennsylvania for fracking to myself.’
Both Fetterman and Oz, with some prodding, said they’d again support President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump, respectively.
‘I’ll support whoever the Republican Party puts up,’ Oz said when specifically asked about Trump 2024.
When asked why he wouldn’t fully commit to Trump – who endorsed the TV doctor in a tight primary – Oz answered, ‘Oh I do, I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president.’
When asked about the ongoing legal investigations haunting Trump, Oz answered that he hadn’t been paying much attention.
‘I haven’t followed them very carefully, I’ve been campaigning aggressively, they’ll work themselves out,’ Oz said. ‘I have tremendous confidence in the American legal system and I believe law and order will reign supreme.’
A new poll taken up until the day before John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz’s first and only debate shows the Democrat’s lead over his Trump-backed rival sitting at only 2 percent
Oz then claimed that Fetterman ‘broke the law, we believe,’ for an incident where he chased after an unarmed black jogger, after hearing what the Democrat said sounded like gunfire.
‘John, you weren’t pulled over by the police, they let you go, you were the mayor at the time. Why haven’t you apologized to that unarmed innocent black man who you put a shutgun to his chest?’ Oz asked.
Fetterman said that the Braddock community, pointing out it’s majority-black, ‘understood what happened.’
‘And everybody agreed that – and nobody believes that it was anything about me making a split-second decision to defend out community as well,’ Fetterman said.
A moderator then asked Fetterman about a Biden 2024 run.
‘It’s up to his choice whether he runs and if he does choose to run I would absolutely support him, but ultimately that’s his choice,’ Fetterman said, echoing many other Democrats.
A Fetterman campaign memo released before the debate had called out the Oz campaign for attacks on Fetterman’s health, which have mostly been made via the Republican’s campaign staff.
‘Oz will try to play the nice doctor on Tuesday night, but his campaign’s attacks on John’s health have consistently been mean-spirited and cruel,’ the memo said. ‘We won’t forget this is the same “doctor” whose campaign has mocked John’s use of closed-captioning technology, about him needing bathroom breaks and medical staff nearby, and he wouldn’t have had a stroke if he ate vegetables.’
Oz’s staff made the comments as a September debate was being negotiated, but never happened, as Fetterman pulled out, saying the Republican’s team was mocking a stroke victim.
Fetterman has consistently had a small edge in polls, which continues, though several recent surveys show it’s close.
On Tuesday, a CBS News survey put the distance between the two candidates at two points.
According to the survey, 51 percent of likely Keystone State voters back Fetterman, compared to 49 percent who back Oz.
The Democratic populist’s lead falls well within the 4.4-percent margin of error.