BRADDOCK, Dad. – John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in a pivotal race in the Pennsylvania Senate, is still struggling to understand what he is hearing and to speak clearly after a stroke in May.
In an exclusive broadcast interview with NBC News taped at his home on Friday, Fetterman said his recovery “changes everything” and that if voters choose him over Republican Mehmet Oz, his ability to serve in the Senate would not affect his ability to serve in the Senate. .
“I don’t think it will have an impact,” said Fetterman, who resumed his duties as lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in May but didn’t start appearing at public campaign events until mid-August. “I feel like I’m going to get better and better every day. And in January I’m going [to] be, you know, much better. and dr. Oz will still be a con artist.”
In the in-depth interview, Fetterman discussed issues that became big during the Pennsylvania race: abortion rights, crime and inflation, as well as how to handle the opioid epidemic.
During the interview, Fetterman occasionally stuttered and had trouble finding words. He answered oral questions after reading captions on a computer screen. “Sometimes I hear things in a way that isn’t quite clear. So I’m using captions so I can see what you’re saying about captioning,” Fetterman said.
Tune in to “Nightly News with Lester Holt” at 6:30 PM ET / 5:30 PM CT for more of our interview with Fetterman. An expanded version of the interview will be published on NBCNews.com on Wednesday.
He said the stroke, after which doctors implanted a pacemaker with a defibrillator to monitor and regulate his heartbeat, has changed the way he communicates, including with his family.
“It changes everything,” Fetterman said, in response to a question about how his recovery has changed his day-to-day life. “Everything has changed about it.”
Fetterman, acknowledging the challenges he still faces, added: “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 big one.” challenge. And every now and then I miss a word. Every now and then. Or sometimes I may get two words mixed up. But as long as I have subtitles, I can understand exactly what is being asked.”
At one point, he struggled to articulate the word “empathetic”—switching between proper pronunciation and “emphetic”—then pointed that out as an example of the effect of the stroke. When asked about those moments, Fetterman said the search for language is not a difficult experience.
“No, I don’t think it was difficult. It was about me having to think more, uh, sl, uh — slower — to just understand and that sometimes that’s kind of processing,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman’s health has been a major focus of a selective race that stands out for its high stakes, low shots and tighter polls. But it wasn’t enough to put Oz in charge of a major investigation, and Republicans pour millions of dollars into ads depicting Fetterman as mild-mannered against crime and pointing to a 2013 incident when he arrested an unarmed black jogger at gunpoint.
Monday’s Real Clear Politics average of polls suggests Fetterman has a 3.7 percentage point lead, much smaller than the double-digit advantage he enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of a controversial GOP scoop that Oz won. recent polls have shown their lead within the margin of error.
But Fetterman’s stroke, which happened just before he won his primary, threw the Democrat off the campaign trail and left some with doubts about his health.
Pressured by NBC News as to why he turned down requests to share his medical records and make his doctors available for interviews, Fetterman said he was not aware of any undisclosed symptoms and argued that he was open with the public about his health and recovery, including auditory processing challenges. He has said that his cognitive function and memory are unaffected.
“I feel like we’ve been very transparent in a lot of ways,” Fetterman said. “If our doctor has already given a letter that I can serve and run. And then I think there – you can’t be more transparent than standing on a podium with 3,000 people and giving a speech without a teleprompter and just being – and putting everything and yourself there like that. I think that’s as transparent as anyone in Pennsylvania can see.”
Democrats are also pumping money into the state, one of their few chances at a time when their control of the 50-50 Senate rests on party unity and the casting vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Along with their counterparts in a handful of competing states, Pennsylvania voters will have a say in which party controls the Senate in January.
For months, Democrats have portrayed Oz, a longtime resident of New Jersey, as a tourist who used his television personality fame to profit from selling fake “miracle cures” to consumers. Fetterman’s campaign has hounded him for refusing to take a stance on a proposal by Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“If you want to be our next senator, you have to give the answer,” said Fetterman, who opposes the Graham legislation.
Instead, he said, he supports a national law that would allow the Roe vs. Wade’s Supreme Court ruling, which was overturned earlier this year, would effectively reinstate, adding that he would vote to abolish the Senate filibuster to make it easier for Democrats to make such rulings. a law.
In response to a question about his focus on the issue of abortion at a time when many Americans say they are more concerned about inflation and the economy, he said Americans are outraged by the Court’s decision to overturn 50 years of precedent. and end federal protections for abortion rights.
“And they [women] believe their choice belongs to them, not Dr. Oz or the Republicans,” Fetterman added that inflation was a big problem.
Fetterman then blamed inflation on “business greed” and attacked Oz for having “no idea what inflation is in terms of what it feels like and what it really is and how it manifests.”
He also pushed back on Republicans accusing him of being soft on crime. Although he used his seat on a state parole board to advocate the early release of some inmates — including those convicted of murder and other violent crimes — Fetterman said parole was granted in only a small proportion of cases and convicts who had repented through years of good conduct.
“I believe in redemption,” Fetterman said, using the movie “Shawshank Redemption”“ to explain his approach to leniency.
“If at the end of the movie you were to vote to have Morgan Freeman’s character die in prison, that’s really the one — that’s the choice,” he said. “I haven’t met a single person who said, ‘Yeah, Morgan Freeman should die in prison.’ It’s all a choice for redemption and giving someone a chance not to die in prison that poses no danger to the public.”
He also praised President Joe Biden’s decision last week to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession only at the federal level; he said earlier this year that he had pressured Biden to decriminalize pot.
At the same time, Fetterman told NBC News that he advocates strengthening federal drug laws to make it easier to enforce mandatory minimum sentences on fentanyl dealers, an idea enshrined in GOP legislation on Capitol Hill.
Pennsylvania, like many states, has struggled with the misuse of painkillers like fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that can be deadly in small doses. Despite his approval of the early release of some violent criminals, and without committing to signing a GOP bill in Congress, Fetterman endorsed the basic purpose of the legislation.
“I should see what’s in front of me when it’s there. But the bottom line is that as an addict, you know, we haven’t been able to make our way out, you know, to arrest the addict,” he said. “But it’s the pushers, really the dealers, that’s a different problem. And they deserve to be in jail.”
In the weeks immediately following Fetterman’s stroke, some Democrats told NBC News that they were concerned about his recovery and whether he was being outspoken enough about his health. But those voices faded as he returned to the campaign trail and it became clear that he couldn’t be easily replaced on the ballot.
Last month, several Democratic officials told NBC News that they had seen Fetterman up close and were not concerned about his abilities. But Democrats have asked voters in focus groups for their views on Fetterman’s health, a sign that there is at least concern about the possible political consequences of the stroke.
Fetterman has slowly ramped up his campaign schedule and his team has released video clips of him speaking at rallies. Still, they have limited his exposure to tough questions from voters and the media.
Oz has criticized Fetterman for agreeing to just one debate — accusing his rival of hiding from voters during stroke recovery. The two campaigns have argued over the rules for the October 25 debate, but Fetterman promised to participate.
“Well, of course I’ll be on the 25th,” Fetterman said.