Democratic Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman promised Wednesday that he would debate celebrity heart surgeon and Republican fellow Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz after one of the state’s top newspapers questioned Fetterman’s fitness for office due to a recent stroke.
“We’re absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and that was really always our intent to do that,” Fetterman told Politico in an interview — though he declined to say when specifically the showdown would take place.
“It was just simply only ever been about addressing some of the lingering issues of the stroke, the auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to work that out,” he added.
Fetterman, 53, agreed to a debate after bailing on a scheduled Tuesday head-to-head — earning him a rebuke from retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Fetterman told Politico Wednesday the debate would take place “sometime in the middle to end of October” and be hosted by a “major television station,” but did not give further details.
The Post-Gazette’s editorial board said Tuesday that if Fetterman could not debate his Republican opponent, he may not be healthy enough for a six-year term in the Senate after suffering a stroke in May.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman promised that he will debate Dr. Mehmet Oz ahead of their Senate election.REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Fetterman “still speaks haltingly and relies on closed captioning to fully understand his conversation partners,” the paper noted.
The lieutenant governor confirmed to Politico Wednesday that his campaign was “exploring” using a closed-captioning monitor for any potential debate against Oz.
“We’re just exploring that. I have every ability to talk about all of these issues and have a full debate,” Fetterman said. “And that’s really just the one lingering issue of the stroke — that some of my hearing was damaged a little bit, but it’s continuing to get better and better and better every day.”
Oz had questioned Fetterman’s health after suffering a stroke in May and declining previous debate offers.Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images
“A live debate is the best way to assure voters Mr. Fetterman is up to the job,” the Post-Gazette added in its editorial. ”Voters have a right to know whether their prospective senator can do the job — including handling the give-and-take of a vigorous debate.”
The paper also scolded the Oz campaign for suggesting that it would pay for “additional medical personnel [Fetterman] might need to have on standby” during a debate, calling the crack a “low point” in the race.
Toomey, a moderate who endorsed Oz after declining to support a candidate in the bruising Republican primary, also urged Fetterman to face Oz in a debate Tuesday.
“You have one candidate, Dr. Oz, who very much wants to engage in a robust debate about the differences, discuss policies and the implications for Pennsylvanians,” the senator said at a press conference with Oz in Philadelphia. “And then you have another candidate, John Fetterman, who’s doing everything possible to avoid debating those differences.
“John Fetterman sits at home, does social media all day [and] he raises tons of money from liberals in California and New York,” Toomey added.
Oz, a protege of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, hosted his own health-focused TV program for more than a decade before announcing his bid for office. He would be the first Muslim elected to the US Senate.
The celebrity doctor narrowly won the May 17 Republican primary over businessman David McCormick with the help of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. At a weekend campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Trump mocked Fetterman for frequently appearing in public wearing a “dirty, dirty, dirty” sweatshirt.
“Fetterman may dress like a teenager getting high in his parents’ basement, but he’s a raging lunatic hellbent on springing hardened criminals out of jail in the middle of the worst crime wave in Pennsylvania history,” the 45th president said.
Fetterman has a 6.5 percentage point lead over Oz in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls.