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Biden and Fetterman draw questions about fitness for office ahead of joint campaign appearance

Fetterman needed closed captioning during an interview with NBC News.

Published: October 13, 2022 4:36pm

Updated: October 14, 2022 2:41pm

President Biden and Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman are drawing questions about their fitness for office ahead of a joint campaign appearance in the swing state.

Fetterman, who suffered a stroke on May 13, needed closed captioning during an interview with NBC News journalist Dasha Burns. Following the interview, Burns said Fetterman had difficulty understanding what was being said prior to their on-camera conversation. 

"During some of those conversations before the closed captioning was rolling, it wasn't clear he could understand what we were saying," Burns reported on air.

The interview prompted Fetterman's opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, to call for more information to be publicly released about his health. 

The Oz campaign said in a statement on Wednesday: "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board called on both candidates to release their medical records weeks ago and The Washington Post Editorial Board called out Fetterman for his lack of transparency. Pennsylvanians deserve to know the truth before they cast a vote on November 8th and John Fetterman needs to be honest with voters."

Fetterman has defended not releasing his medical records.

"In June, I released a letter from my doctor where he clearly stated that I am fit to serve," Fetterman said in a statement. "Dr. Oz built his entire career by lying to people about health. I trust my actual doctors over the opinion of a charlatan who played one on TV."

Burns addressed the criticism that Fetterman has been getting as a result of her interview and the commentary that followed. 

"Our reporting did not and should not comment on fitness for office," Burns tweeted on Wednesday. "This is for voters to decide. What we push for as reporters is transparency. It's our job."

Fetterman and Oz are running to fill the seat of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who has raised questions about Fetterman's fitness for office.

"If John Fetterman were elected to the Senate, and he's not able to communicate effectively, if he's not able to engage with the press, if he's not able to engage with colleagues, he will not be able to do the job," he said.

Disability advocates have defended Fetterman after the backlash from the NBC interview.

"I was stunned to see how the coverage of his use of captions was so riddled with ableism," said Maria Town, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "The interview was deeply upsetting to see."

Fetterman's campaign has reportedly raised $1 million since the controversial interview took place.  

Fetterman, 53, is set for a joint appearance with Biden at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Oct. 20. Biden, who turns 80 next month, has been making headlines as of late with some eyebrow raising comments that prompted some to question his own fitness for office.

Biden asked where the late Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski was at a White House food insecurity event while thanking the lawmakers who signed legislation that convened the conference.

"Jackie, are you here? Where's Jackie?" Biden said.

Biden had previously released a formal statement in August after learning of her death.

The White House defended Biden, saying Walorski was "top of mind." 

Biden faced criticism from Republicans who wondered why he would publicly ask for a congresswoman who he knew had died in a car crash.

"The Daily Show" on Comedy Central mocked Biden for the gaffe. "No, Joe, what are you doing?" said Trevor Noah, host of the show. "Look, I guess on the upside, at least he noticed that she wasn’t there."

Biden later apologized to Walorski's family.

This week, Biden said his son Beau died in Iraq, but he died of cancer in Bethesda, Md. at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2015. 

"I say this as a father of a man who won the Bronze Star, the Conspicuous Service Medal, and lost his life in Iraq," he said Wednesday in Colorado. 

Over the years, Biden has attributed his son's brain tumor to toxins from burn pits in Iraq. Beau served in Iraq and returned to the U.S. in September 2009.

The clip of Biden saying his son died in Iraq has gone viral online.

"Today Biden said his son lost his life while serving in Iraq, NOT years later due to cancer," tweeted Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, former physician to the U.S. president from 2013-2018. "If he's forgotten moments in his life like this, HOW could he have the cognitive ability to lead the country? This has gone too far. Biden needs to take a cognitive exam or RESIGN!"

Over the summer, Biden said during a speech that he had cancer. The remark prompted many social media users to publicly question if that was true or a gaffe.

"You had to put on your windshield wipers to get, literally, the oil slick off the window," said Biden. "That's why I and so damn many other people I grew up with have cancer."

Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, later said Biden was referring to non-melanoma skin cancer he had removed in the past.

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