John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz have been trading barbs and attacks for months, but as it stands now, Pennsylvanians may have to wait a little longer to see the two Senate candidates on a debate stage.
Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered just before the May 17 primary, officially declined an invitation to debate Oz in Pittsburgh next week, chastising the celebrity physician and his campaign, accusing them of mocking his recovery.
“I’m proud of my record as mayor and as Lieutenant Governor and I’m eager to put my record and my values up against Dr. Oz’s any day of the week,” Fetterman said in a statement released Tuesday night. “As I recover from this stroke and improve my auditory processing and speech, I look forward to continuing to meet with the people of Pennsylvania. They’ll always know where I stand.”
The news came after Fetterman notified KDKA-TV that he would not be attending a debate that Oz had already agreed to. It also followed a statement from Oz campaign that offered a list of concessions in order to goad Fetterman into participating – one of which stated that Oz’s Senate campaign would “pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby.”
In the list of concessions, Oz’s campaign also said the celebrity doctor “promises not to intentionally hurt John’s feelings at any point” and that the campaign “will allow John to have all of his notes in front of him along with an earpiece so he can have the answers given to him by his staff, in real time.”
In a statement accompanying the concessions, Oz spokesperson Brittany Yanick suggested that Fetterman didn’t want to debate his record against Oz, the Republican Party’s nominee. “I guess John Fetterman is afraid of debating Doctor Oz,” Yanick said in a statement.Last week, Oz’s campaign aggressively went after Fetterman, suggesting that Fetterman may not have had a stroke if he had “ever eaten a vegetable in his life.”
Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was hospitalized after suffering a stroke in May, and later underwent a procedure to have a pacemaker with a defibrillator implanted, causing him to temporarily give up his lieutenant governor duties. Following the stroke, Fetterman said in a statement that he should have taken his health “more seriously,” adding that he “almost died” as a result of avoiding routine medical visits. Fetterman’s campaign later revealed that the Senate hopeful was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2017, and that he also has a condition called cardiomyopathy – a broad term for a heart muscle disorder.
Citing his recent health challenges, Fetterman didn’t take kindly to the list of concessions released by Oz’s campaign. “Today’s statement from Dr. Oz’s team made it abundantly clear that they think it is funny to mock a stroke survivor,” Fetterman said. “I chose not to participate in this farce. Any sense that these ‘challenges’ were done in good faith is damaged.”
“My recovery may be a joke to Dr. Oz and his team, but it’s real for me,” he added.
Fetterman officially returned to the campaign trail with a rally in Erie on Aug. 13, where he said he was “grateful to be here.” According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fetterman “delivered his speech off the cuff and spoke deliberately and slowly” and, at times, “had to carefully enunciate a word or two.”
Fetterman told the Post-Gazette in a July interview that he is working with a therapist to improve his speech. And while he took offense to comments made by Oz’s campaign, he didn’t completely close the door on the possibility of meeting the former talk show host on a debate stage. Fetterman said he looks forward to a “productive discussion about how we can move forward,” adding that he will “have a real conversation on this once Dr. Oz and his team are ready to take this seriously.”
Upon learning of Fetterman’s decision not to participate in next week’s debate, Oz’s campaign had a pointed response: “John Fetterman is a liar, a liberal, and a coward,” Yanick said.
Oz, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has publicly agreed to at least four other U.S. Senate debates, including events hosted by WFMZ-TV, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Nexstar. If his campaign’s public comments are any indication, he’s already itching for the next opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the Democratic nominee.
"We heard John Fetterman won't debate Oz in the 'first week of September'. Ok, so when will he debate? He won't ever say – not even in his latest whiny statement,” Yanick said in a statement. “John Fetterman's campaign is insulting the intelligence of Pennsylvania voters."