In his first week, John Fetterman exhibits why voters despatched him to the Senate

It’s been a long journey for the newly minted Pennsylvania senator, and he’s only been in his first term for a few months.

Four days before his primary victory in May 2022, then-Lt. Governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman suffered a stroke.

While his campaign initially downplayed the seriousness of his stroke, he eventually brought the same fighting spirit he’s known for in Pennsylvania to his recovery, eventually being able to interview and live debate after a summer of limited campaign engagements. A lot depended on those first national appearances.

Fetterman’s debate and interview performance drew criticism for using closed captioning to support hearing function delays due to his stroke, even though the campaign released cognitive test results showing normal function for a person his age. An interview with NBC News reinforced a Republican backlash against Fetterman, after which Jason Easley, disability expert and PoliticusUSA, stated:

The NBC News interview was discriminatory towards John Fetterman and the disability community. Dascha Burns, the interviewer, was not interested in Fetterman’s political positions, instead wanting to talk about the candidate’s temporary disability and use it as a factor to worry voters.

But in the end, Fetterman rallied, his supporters never faltered, and he eventually won his election against Republican Mehmet Oz, who hails from New Jersey and kindly disappeared after his brutal loss.

Then, almost immediately after arriving in the Senate, the Democratic senator went to the George Washington University hospital after feeling groggy. He later spent six weeks hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for depression, after which he returned to his home in Braddock, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh.

Although Fetterman suffered from depression before his stroke, about one-third of people who have had a stroke experience some form of clinical depression. Fetterman’s case was serious. He spent several weeks at home before returning to the Senate this week for the first time since mid-February.

While political opponents continue to berate Fetterman for his health issues and suggest his stroke made him unfit for office, Fetterman used his freshman week back to lobby for issues that sent him to DC, such as the introduction of legislation banning stock trading for members and holding a hearing on SNAP benefits.

Fetterman spoke on issues like congressional accountability for a stock trading ban, and he began his first week back to fulfill that promise.

On Tuesday, Fetterman, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) along with House Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Michael Cloud (R-TX ) introduced the ETHICS Act (Ending Trading and Holdings in Congressional Stocks, Act) – a bipartisan law that would ban members of Congress, their spouses and dependent minors from owning or trading in stocks, commodities or futures.

“Legislators shouldn’t be able to benefit from the same companies they regulate. Allowing members of Congress to trade stocks opens the door to corruption. Lawmakers should focus on getting results for their constituents — not lining their own pockets,” Fetterman said at the press conference introducing the bill.

Lest anyone think it’s just Democrats and scattered Republicans supporting this, Republican Senator Josh Hawley is also pushing for a bill to ban members from trading, which he’s chasing with the petty mind of an ever-finger-pointing Republican Democratic Speaker Emerita Nancy has named Pelosi.

Imagine focusing so much on Nancy Pelosi as a source of unethical behavior after four years of Trump family crime in the White House and then Trump’s attempted self-coup attack on the Capitol, which Hawley seemed quite supportive of — that is , when he did not run away in fear.

In any case, Hawley’s bill would require members found in violation to return their profits to American taxpayers, which is a pretty great concept that will never happen, aside from the eponymous childishness.

But Fetterman’s bill is co-sponsored by 20 other senators and has a more realistic scope, although it seems unlikely a Republican-led House would pass anything related to preserving ethics.

A ban on share trading is urgently needed. It was just reported that when SVB collapsed and, as Stephanie Ruhle put it, “Congress had a lot of information that NO ONE else had, members on both sides of the aisle and/or their spouses became active bank stock traders!”

The @nytimes reports that congressmen have sold bank stocks amid the banking crisis. @katekelly who posted the story has the details.

— Last Call (@LastCallCNBC) April 19, 2023

The ETHICS bill is not Fetterman’s first bill. His first law was the Railway Accountability Act after the horrific train derailment and explosion in East Palestine, Ohio.

Fetterman has also been a consistent and strong advocate for women’s medical freedom in the post-Roe world, for example he met with supporters of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania in late January to discuss access to sexual and reproductive health care.

After the Trump judge tried to ban the abortion pill, Fetterman issued a blunt statement: “This decision by a far-right Trump-appointed judge is just plain bullshit. This is just another attempt by the GOP to deprive women of their rights and enforce a nationwide ban on abortion. Mifepristone remains safe and legal in Pennsylvania. We will fight it and we will win.”

On Wednesday, Fetterman chaired his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics and Research, which focused on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), which came in light of the Timely Republican demand to cut SNAP funding.

Fetterman’s comments on SNAP are the kind of news politicians are trying to buy but can’t seem to get through:

“It’s time to come together and stop playing political games with Americans’ access to food.”

“Cut snapshot for families and kids while pushing tax cuts for billionaires? Not on my watch.”

That’s the Fetterman that Pennsylvanians know. He is both an antidote to Trumpism and a successful product of post-Trump populism at this political moment in history. After all, Trump is the one who made swearing a sign of authenticity.

Fetterman got off to a rocky start due to health issues, but he’s also shown himself in important ways. He came out on top to keep his end of the bargain with the voters, to be the fighter they chose.

Fetterman has also unknowingly become a symbol of what it can mean to stop judging people based on their disability and/or mental health issues, and start judging them on what they do.

This man, though imperfect and flawed like all of us, represents so much hope for change and true caring for people. We just hold our breath and hope he continues his fight for a nation that desperately needs more elected officials like him.

Listen to Sarah on the PoliticusUSA Pod on The Daily’s newsletter podcast here.

Sarah has been accredited to report on President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and to exclusively interview spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively on her first appearance at home following the then-Vice President’s first impeachment to report to President Donald Trump.

Sarah is a two-time Telly Award-winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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