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Pennsylvania campaign wildcard, Fetterman turns to government

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — When John Fetterman visits Washington in January as one of the newest members of the Senate, he will bring irreverent Pennsylvania style that extends from his own personal dress code — super casual — to the hanging of marijuana flags outside his current office in the state capitol.

Pennsylvania’s only lieutenant governor, who just ceded the state Senate seat to Democrats, may be the only senator to have been declared ‘the god of American taste’ – as GQ magazine has it. .

The 6-foot-8 Fetterman will tower 3 inches over the currently tallest senator, Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas. And he might be the most tattooed senator (if not the only tattooed senator).

He can break some things: He can be aggressively progressive, campaigning hard to commit to ridding the Senate of the filibuster rule. He could also become the Senate’s biggest media attraction: he is outspoken and, especially on social media, has a mischievous wit.

He has a fan in Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Fetterman endorsed for president in 2016 when Sanders was the insurgent Democrat challenging establishment primary favorite Hillary Clinton.

Sanders called Fetterman’s race a national marquee contest — a victory for a progressive candidate who has focused on economic issues, the struggle of the middle class and the growing enrichment of the wealthy.

“And I think if there’s a candidate who ran more than anyone else, who identified with the working class, who made it clear that he was going to Washington to represent the workers, it was John Fetterman,” Sanders told The Associated Press.

Fetterman downplayed his own progressiveness. Instead, he said the Democratic Party took back its longstanding positions — such as legalizing marijuana — and presented itself as a Democrat who votes like a Democrat.

During the campaign trail, Fetterman said he would like to emulate fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, third-term Sen. Bob Casey, a state-politics institution that campaigned for Fetterman and lends his chief of staff to help. to oversee Fetterman’s transition.

Casey doesn’t expect Fetterman’s progressive politics to sideline him, saying Democrats already have a broad coalition that can get things done, like President Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation and massive infrastructure bill. health care and climate change.

“I think you see kind of a broad coalition that’s going to hold together to, you know, move the country forward. So I think John will fit in well with that,” Casey said. “And there will be times when he’s got an issue that he wants to go into and everybody else won’t, but we can work them out.”

Fetterman, 53, just won the most expensive — and probably most unusual — race in the midterm elections for the Senate.

Midway through the campaign, Fetterman survived, then recovered from a stroke that he says nearly killed him. He then beat Dr. Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon turned TV celebrity who spent $27 million of his own money after leaving New Jersey to race.

Fetterman still suffers from auditory processing disorder — a common aftereffect of a stroke — that could require him to use closed captioning in hearings, meetings and debates. It could also limit his ability to engage in the common practice of granting interviews to reporters in the halls of the Senate.

Fetterman’s sensitivity to fashion — he wears hoodies and shorts, even in the winter — emerged during the campaign trail, when Republicans cast him as someone who dresses like a teenager living in the his parents’ basement. At a campaign event for Oz, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., jokingly told the crowd that at least Oz “wears pants.”

In the Senate, Fetterman will join the biggest club of clubs, 100 of the nation’s top insiders: millionaires, descendants and kingmakers and queenmakers. His supporters see him very well entering the Senate differently: as an outsider.

Fetterman became something of a progressive hero without party help, drawing supporters as mayor of a satellite community of Pittsburgh. In that role, he performed same-sex marriages before they were legal and was arrested during a protest after the Pittsburgh regional healthcare giant closed a hospital in his poverty-stricken town of Braddock. .

“He’s for us – not for the big movie stars or the big people who have all the money. He’s for the little guys in Pennsylvania,” said supporter Lydia Thomas.

In a possible glimpse into his Senate tenure, Fetterman’s campaign struck a balance between insiderism and outsiderism.

He forged ties with Casey and Governor Tom Wolf and secured high-level help from Biden and former President Barack Obama. But as lieutenant governor, he earned a reputation as someone who didn’t chitchat with state lawmakers and, as a candidate, who didn’t embrace the alliances of insiders in the left.

When it came time for the state Democratic Party to endorse the four-way Senate primary, Fetterman rejected it as transactional; his campaign called it an “inside game”.

During the campaign, Fetterman regularly used Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as a foil, suggesting that Manchin doesn’t vote like a Democrat should and won’t get rid of the filibuster.

At a crowded County Democratic Party breakfast, he asked voters if there were any “Joe Manchin Democrats” in the room. No one spoke. Then Fetterman told them that a Democrat who doesn’t support ending the filibuster “must believe there are 10 or 12 conscientious Republican senators.” Manchin’s office would not comment.

It’s not clear that Fetterman considers himself an outsider, or that he intended to race that way. He dismissed questions about his style or how he would fit into the Senate, saying that should be the least of anyone’s concerns given the stakes.

“Here’s what I promise never to do: I promise never to incite a riot in the Capitol. I promise never to get up on the floor of the Senate after being chased off by a mob of rioters and lying about our election in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said in an interview last year.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Fetterman was in high demand by television networks and carried Biden’s shield. As a senator, he could once again be in high demand on Sunday talk shows. And his social media feeds are worth watching: his campaign has followed Oz relentlessly, and he sometimes spits swear words when describing things he doesn’t like.

Then there is her wardrobe. Fetterman said he would wear a suit in the Senate chamber and, sure enough, when he showed up for orientation earlier this month, he was wearing one. He’s no stranger to dressing up; he wore a suit while presiding as Lieutenant Governor of the State Senate.

Senate aides don’t know if the Senate dress code is written down somewhere. And while men are expected to wear jackets and ties, Casey suggests the dress code isn’t always enforced.

“Lately I’ve seen some Republican members whose names I won’t reveal — but if you watch the video carefully, you can see — showed up without a tie, or sometimes without a jacket,” Casey said.

Fetterman hasn’t always shown respect for professional expectations or demands that he may not like. For example, as mayor of Braddock, he skipped about a third of borough council meetings during his 13 years in office, records show.

He skipped dozens of state Senate voting sessions during his four years as lieutenant governor, including eight of nine days this fall while on the campaign trail. When he ran for president, Republican senators complained about his lack of interest in learning the rules of the order.

On two occasions, Republican senators have used extraordinary procedural maneuvers to remove him from office in the middle of a voting session, saying he deliberately defied the rules of the order to help his fellow Democrats in partisan clashes.

Not only that, but he ruffled feathers as he hung flags — such as pro-marijuana legalization and LGBTQ and transgender rights flags — on the door to the lieutenant governor’s office and his second-floor outdoor balcony that overlooks the front steps of the State Capitol. .

Republicans, complaining that he was turning his Capitol office into a dormitory, slipped a provision into the lame budget law to stop him — prompting Fetterman to ridicule them as “gay pride police.”

The US Senate will have its own partisanship and transactional relationships among members. Casey says Fetterman is prepared for it, having served as mayor and lieutenant governor. What may be the biggest change for Fetterman, Casey said, is the time demands that will keep him in Washington and away from his wife and three school-age children.

“Your life becomes — because of the timing of votes and hearings — time in Washington and it’s different,” Casey said. “Most people don’t have that kind of schedule where … sometimes you’re in Washington more than the state you represent.”


Associated Press national political writer Steve Peoples and video journalist Jessie Wardarski contributed to this report. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/timelywriter

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