WASHINGTON – John Fetterman’s gradual recovery from a stroke has become a point of attack for Republicans in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, but two senators who suffered recent strokes said Fetterman’s health should not be an issue.
As Fetterman, Sens. Ben Ray Lujan (DN.M.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) suffered strokes this year, but both went back to work and did their jobs. They said Fetterman could do the job too.
“We’re walking, we’re having conversations, we’re talking to people, we’re engaged,” Lujan told HuffPost on Wednesday. “Cognition is powerful. And so I am confident in the work that John Fetterman will do when he is elected US Senator.”
Lujan, 49, was treated for a stroke in his cerebellum in February and returned to work a month after surgery that relieved pressure on his brain. Van Hollen, 63, was briefly hospitalized in May after suffering a “mini-stroke” caused by a ruptured vein in the back of his head.
“I think he’s going to be able to rebound and, based on what I’ve heard his doctor say, he’s going to make a full recovery,” Van Hollen said. “I think it’s smart for him to take the time he needs.”
Republicans have asked Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May before winning the Democratic primary, to agree to a series of debates against Republican candidate Mehmet Oz, suggesting that his continued recovery and sometimes halting campaign speech campaign will disqualify him from serving in the Senate. (Republicans in other federal contests, such as the Georgia Senate race, declined to discuss their opponents.)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring, stepped up the attack this week, arguing that a senator must be capable of thorough discussion and debate to do the job properly.
“If he’s not able to do that, then frankly, he’s not going to be able to be an effective senator, and the voters of Pennsylvania need to know that,” Toomey said while campaigning in the state for Oz, a retired surgeon and former TV show. host.
On Wednesday, Fetterman agreed to a discussion.
Fetterman, 53, said his stroke was caused by a blood clot caused by atrial fibrillation in his heart. He said he was not cognitively impaired, but acknowledged that the stroke had weakened him auditory processing and its speech. He has slowly returned to campaigning in person, recently mocking Oz for using the word “crudité” to describe a vegetable tray.
Oz’s campaign responded with one of the most critical health insults in campaign history: “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a massive stroke and wouldn’t be in a position to lie about it all the time.”
Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (DN.M.), seen here at a news conference Aug. 2 at the U.S. Capitol, said he offered support to John Fetterman after the Pennsylvania stroke. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)
Lujan said he contacted Fetterman “to offer support” and that the two had spoken several times. The New Mexico Democrat said he greatly appreciated how Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) sent him “daily inspirational videos” after his stroke.
“It got to the point where I was looking forward to this video and it was emotional at times, but it meant a lot to me,” Lujan said. “When any of us at times in our lives are going through something that can be difficult, support helps.”
Luyan received a bipartisan applause when he returned to the Senate chamber just a month after his stroke.
Fetterman’s campaign released a letter from his doctor saying that if he takes his medication and follows medical advice, “he should be able to campaign and serve in the US Senate without a problem.”
Van Hollen called the GOP attacks on Fetterman’s health care “out of bounds.”
“I don’t think politicians should be second-guessing the judgments of medical professionals, and I know Dr. Oz is sometimes portrayed as one of them. I would listen to doctors who know what they are talking about in this field,” he added.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.