Still working his way back from a stroke, Pennsylvania’s Democratic US Senate candidate John Fetterman struggled at times in his debate with Mehmet Oz on Tuesday, but was more direct than his Republican opponent when discussing abortion, the economy, crime and more.
Like many other political debates, Tuesday’s hour-long contest in Harrisburg between John Fetterman and Dr. Oz featured the US Senate candidates interrupting, getting reprimanded by the moderators, and leveling accusations at each other more than actually discussing the issues.
Unlike many other debates, this one featured a candidate in Fetterman who was still recovering from a stroke.
Fetterman acknowledged the stroke he suffered just before the May primary at the top of the debate, calling it “the elephant in the room.”
“I had a stroke and he’s never let me forget that,” Fetterman said, referring to the mocking comments regarding his health from Oz’s campaign. “I might miss some words during this debate but I will keep getting back up and fighting.”
Though his doctor last week said that Fetterman was recovering well from the stroke and cleared him to resume “full duty in public office,” the Democratic Senate candidate’s struggles with auditory processing and articulation were noticeable during the debate, especially in comparison with the polished delivery of the Republican Oz, a former TV host. Fetterman stumbled over his words while answering questions and occasionally took extended pauses in an apparent attempt to fully comprehend what was being asked.
Working from that disadvantage didn’t prevent Fetterman from digging in hard on his positions, or from going after Oz for his evasiveness and misleading statements.
Using closed-captioning to help him process words, Fetterman managed to paint Oz as an extraordinarily wealthy opportunist who was beholden to big business. On the topic of raising the federal minimum wage above $7.25—the amount of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage since 2009—Fetterman questioned how someone who owned multiple mansions like Oz could possibly have the best interests of working Pennsylvania families in mind.
Oz accused Fetterman of taking his views and policies to the extreme, of continually not paying his taxes, and of living off his parents. Fetterman, in turn, slammed Oz for constantly lying about the issues.
“It’s the Oz rule,” Fetterman said. “If he is on TV he’s lying.”
Here are the top takeaways from Tuesday’s debate:
On the Economy and Inflation
According to recent polls, the economy and inflation are the biggest concerns for voters this election cycle. Oz blamed President Joe Biden for the state of the economy and rising inflation. He said Fetterman lacked a clear plan for battling inflation and just wanted to raise taxes.
Oz presented cutting the federal budget as his solution to inflation. While he said he supported reducing taxes, he said it had to be done thoughtfully, with an eye on the long-term game plan.
Fetterman said he would push back against price gouging and corporate greed. He said he would make sure more products were made in America, and Pennsylvania in particular.
“Inflation has hurt Pennsylvania families and has given oil companies record profits,” Fetterman said. “Oz would never make that choice to fight for families here in Pennsylvania. He hasn’t met an oil company he hasn’t swiped right about.”
On the Minimum Wage
Fetterman said he supports raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for more than a decade.
“I believe every (job) has dignity and every paycheck should have dignity in it as well,” he said.
Oz, on the other hand, said market forces have already driven up the minimum wage in many states and the government needed to make sure small businesses weren’t put out of commission because of having to pay higher wages. Oz did not specifically say if he would support a bill raising the minimum wage, saying only the wages should be “much higher.”
Fetterman said he supports Roe v. Wade, which was the law of the land for 50 years until being overturned by the Supreme Court in June. He called abortion “healthcare”—something that should be decided between a woman and her doctor, not the government.
“I want to look into the face of every woman in Pennsylvania: If you believe the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs with Dr. Oz, that’s your choice. But if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs with you and your doctor, that’s what I fight for,” Fetterman said.
Oz supports banning abortions with an exception in cases of incest, rape, and for the health of the mother. During the debate, Oz was adamant that the federal government should not be involved in legislating abortion, and that the decision should made by “local political leaders.” Still, he passed on three opportunities to directly answer whether or not he would support Sen. Lindsey Graham’s abortion ban.
Oz said he supports fracking, drilling, and piping of gas, calling it a lifeline for the state of Pennsylvania. He said he believes fracking is safe and not a health risk.
He said if the country “unleashed” the energy industry there would be “plenty of money to go around.”
Fetterman said he absolutely supports fracking, even when confronted with a comment he made in 2018 to the contrary.
“I’ve always supported fracking and I always believe energy independence is important,” Fetterman said. “I support how critical it is to produce our own energy.”
On Public Safety
The Republican party has repeatedly attacked Fetterman in fear-mongering ads, portraying him as soft on crime and willing to randomly release violent criminals from prison. Fetterman said his record on crime speaks for itself. He cited how, as the mayor of Braddock, he worked with the local police force to fight gun violence and drastically reduce the murder rate. Oz refuted Fetterman’s claims by saying the town got worse under his leadership.
Oz said he supports background checks for gun purchases and increased funding for mental health services in an effort to combat crime. He said Fetterman has taken away law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs and, without providing evidence, simply wants to release a third of all violent prisoners.