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The John Fetterman Question America Needs to Ask

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman listening to speakers. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman listening to speakers.

Can he really serve as a U.S. Senator with all of his health problems? Senator John Fetterman has been back in Congress after taking time away to treat his clinical depression. Fetterman, speaking openly about his mental health battles, has earned praise for his transparency – while also raising questions about whether he is fit for office.

Fetterman suffering from severe depression

Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last February, after sinking into a severe depression. Fetterman’s office released a statement, which said Fetterman had dealt with “depression off and on throughout his life” but “it only became severe in recent weeks.”

Speaking with People, Fetterman said “I always treated my depression like I did with losing my hair. It’s just kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just part of my make up.’”

Fetterman added that he never believed his depression “was significant enough to go get help,” a decision he says he regrets.

Fetterman described his debate against his Senate race opponent, Dr. Oz, as a watershed moment that he would “never forget.”

“I knew going into this debate that millions of people were going to be watching,” Fetterman said. “And it wasn’t even just for Pennsylvanians watching, this would be kind of a national … [it] would be living in history.”

The debate did not go especially well for Fetterman, who was recovering from a stroke he’d had the previous May, and often struggled to relay his thoughts and finish sentences.

“I don’t have any regrets because I believe that I had a responsibility to do the debate, but after that point, to me, that was where the depression really started to set in,” Fetterman said.

Winning the election, defeating Dr. Oz, did not have the uplifting effect one might expect. Rather, Fetterman’s victory was “the moment of concern,” according to Fetterman’s wife, Gisele.

“After he won, you expect someone to be at their highest and really happy and celebratory,” Barreto Fetterman said. “And after winning, he seemed to be at the lowest.”

Fetterman stopped eating and drinking, and after barely a month in office, checked himself into Walter Reed. Fetterman was discharged after six weeks.

Should John Fetterman be in the Senate?

Fetterman’s mental health has raised questions about whether the freshman Senator is fit to serve, and whether he should hold onto his seat on the nation’s highest legislative body.

To me, the answer hinges strictly on whether Fetterman can be present to perform the duties of his office. I’ve got a suspicion Fetterman isn’t the only elected official dealing with mental health problems.

I’ve got an idea that things like legitimate depression and anxiety and substance abuse are common amongst our Congressional bodies.

Regardless, even if Fetterman were the only one, the mere fact that he is depressed is not disqualifying. 

Fetterman’s depression only becomes an issue if it interferes with his ability to perform the duties of his position either through inability, or absence.

The first potential issue, if Fetterman’s depression rendered him unable to focus or to think through the tasks of his position, then that’s a problem, similar to when someone is too old to focus or to think through the tasks of their position. Does Fetterman have the ability to do the job? It seems that way.

The second potential issue is if Fetterman’s depression caused chronic absence, then he probably should not be serving in the Senate. Absence seems the more likely issue to make Fetterman’s continued service inappropriate, but so far absence hasn’t been a chronic issue. Senators can take a leave of absence for health reasons.

It happens frequently, and as long as it doesn’t become a regular thing, Fetterman should be left alone.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.  

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Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.