Fetterman makes appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

The junior senator from Pennsylvania said he was a more empathetic person after suffering a stroke last year, and dealing with auditory processing issues afterward

By: - October 12, 2023 1:11 am

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) on The Late Show with Steven Colbert Oct. 11, 2023 (Photo courtesy CBS/The Late Show)

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday and to get the first question out of the way, yes, he wore shorts and a hoodie.

Colbert, who had interviewed Fetterman previously on his former Comedy Central show while the senator was then mayor of Braddock, noted that now every part of Fetterman’s life was public, including his health.

The stroke Fetterman suffered in May of 2022 left him with lingering auditory processing issues, which require him to use a screen reader in conversation. The screen was posted on Colbert’s desk during the interview, and Fetterman said using it has made him a more empathetic person.

“I never thought about captioning before the stroke,” he said, “but now I realize I have to be an advocate for anyone with a disability, to have the kind of technology that allows them to fully participate in society.”

Colbert asked Fetterman about the public nature of his treatment for depression, for which he spent six weeks at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center earlier this year, noting that a lot other politicians had dealt with depression, but Fetterman had publicly sought help and then leaned into educating others about it.

Pa. U.S. Sen. John Fetterman out of hospital, back home in Braddock

“It’s a privilege and a duty,” Fetterman said, adding he wanted to use his platform to encourage people struggling with depression to get help. “When you’re in the in the blackness of depression, it tricks you into thinking that you’ve lost even though you might have won.” He said at the time, he was skeptical he would ever recover, but stressed that seeking help wasn’t a sign of weakness. “The good news is that it works.” 

They touched on the recent update to the Senate dress code, which became a topic of more discussion than Fetterman expected, amid the other more serious issues the Senate was dealing with at the time. He also joked about the conspiracy theory that he has a body double, saying he was, in fact the double and the “real” Fetterman was at home.

On Fetterman’s penchant for raking adversaries over the coals on social media, Colbert asked if it ever made things awkward on Capitol Hill. “You’ve got excellent meme game, but then you have to see these people in the cafeteria,” Colbert said.

Fetterman replied that it appeared “America is not sending their best and brightest to Washington, D.C.” and that sometimes “you literally can’t believe these people are making the decisions that are determining the government.” He added it was a little scary to put so much  power in the hands of “some less gifted kinds of people that are willing to shut down the government just to score points on FOX.”

John Fetterman back in the U.S. Senate and looking ahead to 2024

Fetterman didn’t mention anything about the 2024 election cycle, or any of the legislation he is currently sponsoring, and most of what he discussed with Colbert were topics he’s touched on in other interviews since he left the hospital in March. He also didn’t mention his recent invitation to appear at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner next month, which has stoked speculation about possible future presidential aspirations. Colbert had wanted to have Fetterman on earlier to talk about his push for mental health issues, but the show was not in production during a strike by the Writers Guild of America that lasted five months.

The trip to New York to appear on the show was paid for by the Fetterman campaign, spokesperson Michael Mikail confirmed to the Capital-Star, and Fetterman drove his personal vehicle and paid for gas out-of-pocket. Before driving to New York on Tuesday, Fetterman visited a picket line in Macungie, Lehigh County, to offer support to United Auto Workers members on strike against Mack Trucks. 

The conversation on Wednesday night did turn briefly to discussion of Israel. “It’s devastating what’s happening in Israel, and as a senator I’m always going to stand on the side of Israel and make sure they get whatever is needed,” Fetterman said. He noted that without a speaker in the House, it was difficult for Congress to take any action, however. “And this is what I’m talking about, scoring points on Fox News has real major implications for the world. It’s not entertainment.”

At the end of the interview he presented Colbert with a hoodie that appeared to be from his personal collection: it was a few sizes too large for Colbert– no chance he’d be mistaken for Fetterman’s body double.


This story was updated at 10:49 a.m. Oct. 12, 2023, to add that the Fetterman campaign paid for the trip to New York City.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly