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John Fetterman gives first Pittsburgh speech since stroke, as rival steps up criticism of his health

  • Oliver Morrison/WESA
US Senate candidate John Fetterman speaks to a gathering of Steelworkers on August 23, 2022

 Oliver Morrison / WESA

US Senate candidate John Fetterman speaks to a gathering of Steelworkers on August 23, 2022

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman spoke publicly in Pittsburgh for the first time since he suffered a stroke in May on Tuesday, as his Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Dr. Mehmet Oz, pressed Fetterman to commit to debates – and sharpened his criticism of Fetterman’s health problems.

Fetterman joined other Democratic officials at the international headquarters of the United Steelworkers, who rolled out their endorsements Tuesday. His speech, like those of other office-seekers, lasted less than five minutes. And though he was animated, there were several times he paused awkwardly – a performance similar to his appearance in Erie earlier this month.

And as in Erie, Fetterman didn’t take questions from reporters, either as he entered or left the campaign. But in his speech, he thanked the AFL-CIO for endorsing him on the first day of his campaign, and said he has a unique relationship with steelworkers, because he lives across the street from the Edgar Thomson steel plant in Braddock.

“Of the ten homes Dr. Oz has, do you think any of them have a steel plant across any of them?” Fetterman asked a crowd of scores of union members urged to support a slate of officeseekers that also included Congressional candidate Chris Deluzio and lieutenant governor hopeful Austin Davis.

Fetterman’s speech continued his long standing criticism of Oz, a surgeon and TV personality, as wealthy and out of touch. “Of all the words that bring to your mind when you hear the word ‘steelworkers’, does the word ‘crudité ’ come to your mind?” he asked, referring to a now-notorious video Oz made this past spring in which he used the vegetable snack to complain about inflation.

But in recent days, Oz’s campaign has ramped up calls for Fetterman to agree to five debates, and has more explicitly questioned Fetterman’s health.

“If John is too sick to debate and is concerned he can not stand in front of cameras for more than 10 minutes, then he should just say so,” said Oz communication director Brittany Yanick, in a Tuesday morning statement. “We’re sure voters would understand and so would we. Otherwise, he should pick some of the many debates Doctor Oz has agreed to.”

And after a barrage of vegetable-related criticism, the Oz campaign sought to turn the tables on Fetterman. A Business Insider story published Tuesday included a campaign statement asserting, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke.” Fetterman’s team responded by publishing a letter in which over 100 doctors faulted Oz for “promoting unproven, ill-advised, and at times potentially dangerous treatments” on his show.

After the Steelworkers event, a spokesperson for Fetterman said the campaign has already said he will debate Oz. But neither Fetterman nor his spokesperson responded to questions about when he would commit to debates. A debate in Pittsburgh hosted by KDKA is scheduled for Sept. 6.

Fetterman didn’t respond to additional questions about the state of his health Tuesday, though previously, he’s told reporters he sometimes slurs words together and is working with a speech therapist.

Before his speech, the National Republican Senatorial Committee criticized Fetterman for opposing fracking and the jobs that depend on it in an email, because of statements Fetterman made during his previous run for the Senate in 2016.

“John Fetterman’s anti-fracking agenda would devastate hard-working Pennsylvanians,” according to a statement from the committee.

Darrin Kelly, the president of the Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council, said he believes Fetterman has made his support for energy and for jobs clear. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that he was against any form of work,” he said. “John has always been for work.”

Fetterman has previously supported a proposal to allow natural-gas drilling beneath the site of the Edgar Thomson works – a move he said would protect union jobs – and supported US Steel in the face of criticism of pollution problems at its Clairton coke works

Kelly thought Fetterman’s speech demonstrated that he is healthy enough to run for Senate. “I think he looked very sharp today,” he said. “Very sharp.”

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