NBC News reporter Dasha Burns said Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman “struggles to understand what he hears and to speak clearly” after having a stroke in May.
Burns sat down with Fetterman for an interview in his home on Friday.
“We had a monitor set up so that he could read my questions because he still has lingering auditory processing issues as a result of the stroke which means he has a hard time understanding what he’s hearing,” Burns explained on Tuesday. “Now once he reads the question, he’s able to understand.”
She went on to say that he “still has some problems, some challenges with speech” and that in small talk before the interview, when the closed captioning was not yet up and running, “it did seem that he had a hard time understanding our conversation.”
Fetterman, who is currently Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, said during the interview: “I sometimes will hear things in a way that’s not perfectly clear. So I use captioning so I’m able to see what you’re saying on the captioning.”
He said he does not believe his stroke recovery will have an impact on his ability to serve in the Senate, if elected.
“I feel like I’m gonna get better and better — every day,” he said. “And by January, I’m going [to] be, you know, much better. And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.”
Burns wrote that Fetterman “occasionally stuttered and had trouble finding words” during the interview.
The Democrat said the stroke has changed the way he communicates, including with his family. He has changed “everything” in his day-to-day life, he said.
“But it gets much, much better where I take in a lot,” he said. “But to be precise, I use captioning, so that’s really the maijing — that’s the major challenge. And every now and then I’ll miss a word. Every now and then. Or sometimes I’ll maybe mush two words together. But as long as I have captioning, I’m able to understand exactly what’s being asked.”
Burns reported that Fetterman struggled to say the word “empathetic” during the interview, weighing the correct pronunciation and “emphetic.”
“No, I don’t think it was hard,” Fetterman said of moments where he is left searching for language. “It was just about having to be thinking more, uh, sl, uh — slower — to just understand and that sometimes that’s kind of the processing that happens,” Fetterman said.
Responding to a question about why he did not share his medical records or make his doctors available for interviews, Fetterman said he is not aware of any undisclosed symptoms and that he has been open with the public about his health and recovery.
He noted that despite his auditory processing difficulties, his cognitive function and memory are unaffected.
“I feel like we have been very transparent in a lot of different ways,” Fetterman said. “When our doctor has already given a letter saying that I’m able to serve and to be running. And then I think there’s — you can’t be any more transparent than standing up on a stage with 3,000 people and having a speech without a teleprompter and just being — and putting everything and yourself out there like that. I think that’s as transparent as everyone in Pennsylvania can see.”
Fetterman previously spent months dodging requests from his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, to debate. Oz suggested in early September that the Democrat is “either healthy and he’s dodging the debate because he does not want to answer for his radical left positions, or he’s too sick to participate in the debate.” Oz has called on his opponent to release his medical records.
Tea Pittsburgh Post Gazette‘s editorial board similarly raised concern about Fetterman’s debate dodging, writing that if he is “not well enough to debate his opponent, that raises serious concerns about his ability to serve as a United States senator.”
However, Fetterman and Oz ultimately agreed to hold a single debate on October 25.
HAS RealClearPolicies polling average shows Fetterman leading Oz by 3.7 percentage points.