John Karl Fetterman (/ˈfɛtərmən/ FEH-tər-mən; born August 15, 1969) is an American politician serving as the junior United States senator from Pennsylvania since 2023. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, from 2006 to 2019 and as the 34th lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania from 2019 to 2023. Generally described as a progressive and a populist , Fetterman advocates healthcare as a right, criminal justice reform, abolishing capital punishment, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and legalizing cannabis.
Fetterman had a self-described privileged upbringing; he said he "sleepwalked" as a young adult while playing four years of football in college, intending eventually to take over ownership of his father's business. In 1991, Fetterman graduated from Albright College, also his father's alma mater, with a bachelor's in finance. He also received a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Connecticut (UConn) in 1993. For two years Fetterman worked in Pittsburgh as a risk-management underwriter for Chubb.
In 1995, Fetterman joined the recently founded AmeriCorps, and was sent to teach Pittsburgh students pursuing their GEDs. He later attended Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University, graduating in 1999 with a Master of Public Policy degree.
Fetterman began his corporate career working at an insurance firm. He came to Braddock in 2001 to start an Out-of-School-Youth Program, helping local youth to earn their GEDs. He moved to Braddock in 2004.
Fetterman studied finance at Albright College and earned an MBA from the University of Connecticut before beginning a professional career in the insurance industry. He went on to join AmeriCorps and earned a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University. Fetterman's service with AmeriCorps led him to Braddock, where he moved in 2004 and was elected mayor the following year. As mayor, Fetterman sought to revitalize the former steel town through art and youth programs.
In the 2009 Democratic primary for mayor of Braddock, Fetterman faced Jayme Cox. During the campaign, Cox attacked him for failing to build consensus with the town council. Cox also criticized Fetterman for abuse of power after Fetterman released non-public records that showed Cox was arrested in 2004. Braddock Solicitor Lawrence Shields agreed that Fetterman's conduct constituted "an abuse of his mayoral authority" and violated the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act. Fetterman defeated Cox in the primary by a vote of 294 to 103 and was unopposed in the general election. Fetterman handily won the Democratic primaries in 2013 and 2017, and was unopposed in the general elections.
Fetterman ran for mayor of Braddock against the incumbent, Pauline Abdullah, in 2005. With backing from the town's young residents, he won the Democratic primary by a single vote. Fetterman won the general election; he did not face a Republican opponent.
In 2006, Fetterman opposed the expansion of Mon-Fayette Expressway, a partially completed four-lane highway that connects Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He argued that the planned expansion of the expressway would cut straight through Braddock and destroy the town.
Fetterman is married to Gisele Barreto Fetterman (née Almeida), a Brazilian-American activist. Almeida, who was once an undocumented immigrant and a resident of Newark, New Jersey, heard about Fetterman's work as mayor of Braddock and wrote him a letter in 2007. Fetterman invited Almeida to visit Braddock, and a year later they were married. The couple has three children and they live in a converted car dealership with their rescue dogs, Levi and Artie. The family chose to not live in State House, the official residence for Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor.
In 2008, Allegheny County sued Fetterman and his nonprofit Braddock Redux for unpaid taxes. A tax lien was placed against Fetterman and his nonprofit for $25,000. In 2012, Fetterman paid off the unpaid taxes.
While mayor, Fetterman had a contentious relationship with the town council and did not attend many council meetings. In 2009, members of the town council attempted to have him removed from a town council meeting and arrested after he criticized a political opponent while delivering his mayoral report. The same year, council president Jesse Brown ordered Braddock's code enforcement officer to cite Fetterman for an occupancy permit violation for a building owned by Fetterman's nonprofit. A judge later dismissed the complaint. To avoid the town council's gridlock, Fetterman used his nonprofit to accomplish many of his ideas for Braddock; this approach limited citizens' input into the projects.
Fetterman appeared on the Colbert Report on February 25, 2009, discussing the economic difficulties his town faced due to a decreasing population, plummeting real estate values, and bankruptcy. He also questioned why funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 could not be used to support projects such as those in Braddock.
In 2010, Levi Strauss & Company donated money towards Braddock's revitalization and featured the town in an advertising campaign and documentary produced by the Sundance Channel.
Also in November 2010, Fetterman took a leading role in trying to close down Club 804, a Braddock nightclub he described as a public nuisance after a shooting occurred there. Two years later, the club renamed itself "Club Elegance" and Fetterman unsuccessfully sought to have it shut down for violating Braddock's ordinance regarding acceptable locations for certain sexually oriented businesses.
In November 2010, Fetterman was arrested and immediately released after refusing to leave the property of the U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh while protesting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's controversial closure of Braddock Hospital. The Braddock Hospital was Braddock's largest employer, and its closure left the town without a healthcare provider.
Fetterman cast only one vote during his tenure as mayor. In 2012, he voted to help the borough council choose a president.
Fetterman made a cameo appearance in the 2022 film The Pale Blue Eye. In December 2022, he posted a photo of himself and his wife alongside actor Christian Bale on the set of the film. Fetterman also worked with Bale and the film's director, Scott Cooper, in 2013, when they filmed Out of the Furnace in Braddock.
In 2013, Fetterman and celebrity chef Kevin Sousa established a restaurant in Braddock, something the town had lacked. He bought a 3,000-square-foot former car dealership, intending to make it the site of the new restaurant. The restaurant was named Superior Motors. The restaurant opened in 2017, but closed in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Chardaé Jones, Fetterman's successor, criticized the restaurant for closing after only a few years and having received a Paycheck Protection Program loan for $190,000 in 2020.
Starting in 2013, Fetterman began defying a 1996 Pennsylvania law that banned same-sex marriage and began to marry LGBT couples inside his home.
Fetterman was criticized for an incident in North Braddock in January 2013 when he heard a sound he thought was gunfire and followed an unarmed jogger, whom he detained with a shotgun. The jogger, Chris Miyares, a black American, said that what Fetterman thought were gunshots were kids shooting bottle rockets. Fetterman said no debris had been found. Miyares claimed that Fetterman pointed the shotgun at his chest while he loaded the gun and then aimed the gun at his face. Fetterman denies that he pointed the gun at Miyares and said he only pointed the gun in a way to show that he was armed and that he "didn't even have a round chambered or the safety off." He said he believed he "did the right thing" and has not apologized. No charges were brought against either in connection with the incident, and Miyares never filed a formal complaint.
Fetterman's father helped subsidize Fetterman financially because the position of mayor paid only $150 per month. He received payments of $54,000 from his father in 2015. Fetterman has several tattoos related to the Braddock community. On his left arm are the numbers 15104—Braddock's ZIP Code—and on the right are the dates of nine murders that occurred in the town while he was mayor.
In 2015, The Patriot-News described Fetterman as a "skeptic of free trade", given his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a non-interventionist. Fetterman has said that the United States should not "be considered the world's police officers".
On September 14, 2015, Fetterman announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Pat Toomey in the 2016 election. His campaign was considered a long shot against two better-known candidates, Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak, the 2010 Democratic nominee for Senate. Fetterman was endorsed by former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, former Pennsylvania treasurer Barbara Hafer, and the PennLive editorial board.
Fetterman ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, finishing third in the Democratic primary. He ran for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in 2018, defeating a field of candidates that included incumbent Mike Stack in the Democratic primary and winning the election with incumbent governor Tom Wolf. During his tenure, Fetterman received national attention for his efforts to legalize cannabis statewide and for his opposition to President Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud in Pennsylvania.
In 2017, Fetterman's feet suddenly began to swell and he was subsequently hospitalized for testing. At that time, he was diagnosed by cardiologist Ramesh Chandra with "atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, along with a decreased heart pump", although this diagnosis was not known publicly until Fetterman's stroke in May 2022.
On November 14, 2017, Fetterman announced that he would run for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, challenging, among others, incumbent lieutenant governor Mike Stack. Stack was seen as a vulnerable incumbent after the Pennsylvania inspector general launched an investigation into Stack regarding allegations that he mistreated his staff and Pennsylvania state troopers. Fetterman was endorsed by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto and former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell.
During Fetterman's mayoral tenure, several Braddock residents, including the members of the town council, criticized him for his media appearances that emphasized what they saw as negative aspects of the town. Jesse Brown, Braddock's former town council president, said Fetterman "needs to tone down his rhetoric about the community and the bad shape the community is in and the devastation of the housing... If he feels that the community is bankrupt, then he needs to go somewhere where he'd like it." In 2018, Tony Buba, a Braddock-based filmmaker, said: "[Fetterman is] this big presence, and everyone thinks he's John Wayne, [but it is] not that simple." Buba pointed out that while Fetterman was mayor, Braddock's population had stagnated, and while the average income had grown, it was still only $25,000 per household.
In 2018, Fetterman spoke publicly about his substantial weight loss. Fetterman, who is 6 foot 8 inches tall (2.06 m), had weighed more than 400 pounds (180 kg) before losing approximately 150 pounds (70 kg).
On May 15, Fetterman won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor with 38% of the vote. Fetterman was a part of the Democratic ticket along with incumbent governor Tom Wolf. On November 6, 2018, Wolf and Fetterman defeated the Republican ticket of Scott Wagner and Jeff Bartos in the general election.
An Associated Press review of Fetterman's daily schedule during his tenure as lieutenant governor found that he kept a light work schedule and was often absent from official state business. From his inauguration in January 2019 until May 2022, Fetterman's official schedule was blank for one-third of workdays. Additionally, the days that he worked were often short, ranging from four to five hours. He was often absent from presiding over the Pennsylvania State Senate, an official duty of the lieutenant governor. In 2020, he attended only half of the Senate's sessions; in 2021, he attended only a third of them.
Fetterman was sworn into office as the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania on January 15, 2019, replacing Mike Stack. One the first tasks Governor Tom Wolf gave him was to look into legalizing marijuana statewide. Fetterman went on a statewide tour, visiting all 67 Pennsylvania counties, and spoke to residents about legalization. After completing his tour, he published a report on his findings.
On June 4, 2019, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Fetterman "collapsed" while presiding over the State Senate; he became wobbly and grabbed the lectern to prevent himself from falling over, and a member of the Capitol's nursing staff came to examine him. Afterward, Fetterman's spokesperson said he had become overheated and was "back to normal".
In November 2020, Fetterman received national press coverage for saying Donald Trump was "no different than any other random internet troll" and that he "can sue a ham sandwich" in response to Trump threatening to file lawsuits in Pennsylvania alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
In 2021, Fetterman announced his candidacy in the 2022 U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania. He won the Democratic nomination with 59% of the vote and defeated Republican Party nominee Mehmet Oz in the general election with 51% of the vote, becoming the first Democrat to win this seat since 1962. Fetterman resigned as lieutenant governor upon being sworn into the Senate on January 3, 2023.
In 2021, Miyares wrote that Fetterman had "lied about everything" that happened during the incident, but that he had "done far more good than that one bad act" and "should not be defined by it", and that he hoped Fetterman would win the Senate race.
Previously, Fetterman opposed fracking, calling the practice "an environmental abomination". He has since shifted his stance on the issue, saying that he supports permitting fracking, although he advocates for stricter environmental regulations. Fetterman says there needs to be a balance between decarbonization efforts and creating jobs in the fossil fuel industry. While running for lieutenant governor, he supported establishing two new fracking wells. In 2021, Fetterman said that he supports moving towards a "de facto moratorium [on fracking] because the transition is going to be toward green and renewable energy". In February 2021, he told MSNBC, "I'm embracing what the green ideal considers a priority. Like, you know, the Green New Deal isn't a specific piece of legislation. What I am in support of is acknowledging that the climate crisis is absolutely real."
In January 2021, Fetterman announced he was launching an exploratory committee for the 2022 U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania. On February 4, 2021, Fetterman filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission declaring his intention to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Toomey. On February 8, 2021, he officially entered the race.
In fall 2020, Gisele Fetterman shared a photo of the family's home while John was being interviewed. Levi's humorous facial expression resulted in the photograph going viral. The next day, an unconnected fan of Levi created a Twitter account in his name and became friends with Gisele Fetterman, but remains anonymous. Levi and Artie have their own Twitter account with more than 25,000 followers. Levi is a mixed-breed dog and was featured in the CW's television special "Dogs of the Year 2021". In July 2021, the York Daily Record reported that Levi was an advocate for the increase of the state license fee for dog owners to fund the Pennsylvania bureau tasked with canine law enforcement, such as dealing with dangerous dogs and exposing puppy mills.
Fetterman is often described as a social and fiscal progressive, including by himself. When running for Senate in 2022, Fetterman said that he is not a progressive and is "just a Democrat", explaining that many parts of his platform that were once considered progressive are now mainstream beliefs of the party. In 2022, The New York Times characterized Fetterman as "left-leaning". Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer described Fetterman, alongside New York City Mayor Eric Adams, as "simultaneously progressive, moderate and conservative".
In a Democratic primary debate in May 2022, Fetterman said regarding abortion: "That is between a woman and her physician". To the question if any exceptions exist, he said: "It's certainly not between me or any politician. We settled this decades ago, and the fact that these states are trying to repeal it... we have to push back on that." Later that month, Fetterman reiterated his position opposing any legal restrictions on abortion, including in the third trimester.
On May 13, 2022, Fetterman had an ischemic stroke and was hospitalized. The stroke was induced by a clot caused by atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm). Because Fetterman also had cardiomyopathy, his doctors implanted a pacemaker and defibrillator. He was discharged from the hospital on May 22, 2022.
In an early June 2022 letter, Chandra wrote that Fetterman was "well compensated and stable" and that "If he takes his medications, eats healthy and exercises, he'll be fine." His doctors reported that Fetterman did not sustain cognitive damage, and that they expected a full recovery. Fetterman expressed regret for having ignored his health; after the 2017 diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, he did not see a doctor for five years and did not continue medications.
At an August 2022 rally in Erie, Fetterman appeared in public for the first time since recovering from his stroke; according to Politico, he "appeared physically healthy and mostly talked without any issues. At times, however, his speech was somewhat halted." In October 2022, he gave his first in-person interview since the stroke, with Dasha Burns, on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. As a result of his stroke, Fetterman required closed-captioning technology to read the questions as they were being asked out loud. Burns said that in their uncaptioned conversation before the interview, she was uncertain whether he could understand her. This drew criticism from other reporters, who said Fetterman did not exhibit such difficulty in other interviews.
In September 2022, Oz called on Fetterman to debate him before early voting began in Pennsylvania on September 19. Fetterman agreed to debate Oz in "the middle to end of October" but did not commit to an exact date or to a debate in September. Oz and Toomey criticized Fetterman's approach to the debate. The Washington Post wrote that it "raised questions about whether [Fetterman], still recovering from a serious stroke, is fit to serve in the Senate". On September 15, Oz and Fetterman agreed to a single debate on October 25.
In an October 2022 letter providing a medical update, Fetterman's primary care physician said that he "spoke intelligently without cognitive deficits" during examination and had significantly improved communication compared to his first visit with the doctor. Fetterman's stroke left him with symptoms of an auditory processing disorder, and he uses closed captioning as an aid to read speech in real time. The physician noted that Fetterman regularly attends speech therapy, routinely exercises, takes appropriate heart medications, and "has no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office."
In 2023, Fetterman voted against an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have clarified that Article 5 of the NATO treaty does not obviate the need for Congress to declare war.
Fetterman took office on January 3, 2023. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, he is the tallest currently serving senator.
In February 2023, Fetterman attended his first Agriculture Committee hearing. He asked questions about trade and organic farming, but stumbled slightly over his words.
On February 8, 2023, Fetterman was hospitalized overnight after feeling lightheaded during a U.S. Senate retreat earlier that day. His office reported that he was in "good spirits and talking with his staff and family", and that his hospitalization was unrelated to his stroke. On February 16, 2023, Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed Hospital due to clinical depression. A senior aide later said Fetterman would remain hospitalized for "likely less than two months" while he underwent treatment. Fetterman was discharged from Walter Reed on March 31. He returned to the Senate on April 17 and chaired an Agriculture Committee subcommittee to discuss Pennsylvania's farm issues.
Fetterman was hospitalized for syncope (lightheadedness) for two days beginning on February 10, 2023. Two days after his release he was hospitalized again, for a severe case of major depression. For about two months, Fetterman lived and worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As part of his daily schedule at the hospital, his chief of staff arrived at 10 a.m. on weekdays with newspaper clips, statements for Fetterman to approve, and legislation to review. During his hospitalization, Fetterman co-sponsored a bipartisan rail safety bill, introduced after the derailment of a chemical-carrying train in East Palestine, Ohio, close to the border with Pennsylvania; the regulation aimed to strengthen freight-rail safety regulations to prevent future derailments.
In March 2023, right-wing conspiracy theorists spread a false conspiracy theory that Fetterman had been replaced by a body double.
On April 17, 2023, Fetterman returned to the Senate to chair the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittee on food and nutrition, specialty crops, organics and research. The Washington Post said that Fetterman's "voice stumbled at times while reading from prepared notes" during the subcommittee hearing, but "he appeared in good spirits" and communicated a message about the importance of fighting hunger.