John Fetterman Tears Up in Senate Hearing Recounting Insults During Stroke Recovery

The senator, who had a stroke last year, talked about how he's been "ridiculed and made fun of" for his struggles with speech and communication.

John Fetterman Tears Up in Senate Hearing Recounting Insults During Stroke Recovery
Photo:Anna Moneymaker (Getty Images)

In a Thursday hearing on disability access held by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) teared up while recounting his experiences after a stroke last year impacted his ability to process language. While speaking before the committee, Fetterman held up his phone and showed the transcription app he uses, explaining that it “allows me to fully participate in this meeting and conversations with my children and interacting with my staff.”

“I had a stroke about 18 months ago. I have lost my ability to fully process language,” Fetterman said. “I like to think I was an empathetic person, truly. But since that happened, I’ve raised to a whole different kind of level.”

While audibly choking up, the senator continued: “Because I live in a political environment, I was ridiculed and made fun of, because I wasn’t able to process things sometimes.”

On the campaign trail and since taking office, Fetterman has faced personal, ableist lines of attack from both right-wing and mainstream media. Last October, when referring to Fetterman’s use of captions to give interviews, a CBS journalist asked, “Will Pennsylvanians be comfortable with someone representing them who had to conduct a TV interview this way?” Around this same time, Tucker Carlson (who was then still at Fox News) cruelly claimed that Fetterman was “brain damaged” and could “barely speak.” Fetterman’s campaign and doctors had explained that his comprehension had not been impaired and he simply struggles with auditory processing.

“I’m so sorry that I’m sure many of you had to go through this kind of thing,” Fetterman said at Thursday’s hearing, addressing other people with disabilities who were present and also testified. He continued:

I admire everyone that has to kind of live with these kind of struggles, and prevail over them. The question I have is more of an open-ended question to everyone on the panel: How can we become more empathetic, more responsive, and more effective senators, to provide the kind of support and services that anyone in these communities deserve?

Ahead of last year’s election, Fetterman’s campaign said in a statement to Jezebel that the then-candidate “uses closed captioning in interviews to be precise and avoid missing words,” adding that he “is healthy and he also still has a lingering auditory processing issue that his doctors expect will go away.” While Fetterman’s health has continued to improve, he’s remained the subject of right-wing attacks and even conspiracy theories—including the outlandish one that Fetterman hasn’t actually recovered, and his Senate office is using a body double.

Republicans and some members of the media spent much of last year framing Fetterman’s struggles after his stroke as a reason he shouldn’t become a senator. But if anything, his impassioned and personal reflections at the hearing this week show the importance of ensuring voices and experiences like his are represented in Congress.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin