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Tipsheet

Latest Update on Fetterman's Health Raises a Key Question

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

So, can we now question Sen. John Fetterman's health (D-PA)? An NBC News reporter tried to raise a warning when she felt the then-Democratic candidate struggled with small talk. This remark was considered an “ableist” smear—it wasn’t. Fetterman nearly died in 2022 during the primary season, suffering a severe stroke that brought evident impairments concerning mental cognition. And yet, he won the race, beating Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz. It didn’t take long for him to be hospitalized after feeling light-headed during his party’s retreat in Washington. 

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It wasn’t another stroke, but there are now serious concerns about whether the Pennsylvania Democrat can serve as a U.S. Senator. The latest development not just brings us news that the man might have permanent brain damage, but the primary responsibilities of serving constituents might be too taxing on Fetterman. To start, he reportedly hears voices of others like the adults in the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons (via NYT): 

Mr. Fetterman, 53, the 6-foot-8, tattooed and goateed Democrat from Pennsylvania who suffered a near-fatal stroke last May and went on to win one of the most competitive seats in November’s midterm elections, was never going to blend in seamlessly in the marbled corridors of Congress.

But his adjustment to serving in the Senate has been made vastly more difficult by the strains of his recovery, which left him with a physical impairment and serious mental health challenges that have rendered the transition extraordinarily challenging — even with the accommodations that have been made to help him adapt. 

[…] 

Mr. Fetterman declined to be interviewed for this story. But aides and confidantes describe his introduction to the Senate as a difficult period, filled with unfamiliar duties that are taxing for someone still in recovery: meetings with constituents, attending caucus and committee meetings, appearing in public at White House events and at the State of the Union address, as well as making appearances in Pennsylvania. 

The most evident disability is a neurological condition that impairs his hearing. Mr. Fetterman suffers from auditory processing issues, forcing him to rely primarily on a tablet to transcribe what is being said to him. The hearing issues are inconsistent; they often get worse when he is in a stressful or unfamiliar situation. When it’s bad, Mr. Fetterman has described it as trying to make out the muffled voice of the teacher in the “Peanuts” cartoon, whose words could never be deciphered. 

The stroke — after which he had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted — also took a less apparent but very real psychological toll on Mr. Fetterman. It has been less than a year since the stroke transformed him from someone with a large stature that suggested machismo — a central part of his political identity — into a physically altered version of himself, and he is frustrated at times that he is not yet back to the man he once was. He has had to come to terms with the fact that he may have set himself back permanently by not taking the recommended amount of rest during the campaign. And he continues to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental. 

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Yet, initial reports were that this recent hospital stint didn’t set back Mr. Fetterman cognitively. That was obviously fake news because hearing voices like those unseen adult characters from the Peanuts isn’t a good sign, nor is it encouraging that public appearances are herculean tasks. The voters of the Keystone State put this guy in there, but we all saw who would fill his shoes if he fell short: his wife.

Does anyone think Fetterman can serve a full six-year term with these handicaps? No—and that’s not ableist to say; that’s a fact.

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