- John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, spoke to Business Insider about President Donald Trump, voter fraud, criminal justice reform, and his state’s East vs. West rivalry.
- Elected in 2018, Fetterman has used his position to advocate the legalization of marijuana and a renewed focus from Democrats on Pennsylvania’s “forgotten cities.”
- Fetterman is an oft-discussed potential candidate for governor or the US Senate. He said he’s not yet sure what office he will run for in 2022.
- In 2024, however, he fully expects Donald Trump to be a candidate for US president. “100% he’s gonna run,” he said.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
John Fetterman, a Democrat and Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, doesn’t like labels. While certainly left-of-center, he sells his politics as commonsense, honest, and American, whether it’s advocating for the working poor or undocumented immigrants.
In a half-hour interview with Business Insider, Fetterman talked about his rise in politics, his plans for seeking higher office, and what he expects outgoing President Donald Trump to do between now and 2024.
You are economically progressive and very socially liberal, which a lot of people maybe thought wasn’t possible in a statewide elected office in Pennsylvania. So how have you been able to defy conventional wisdom, and how would you describe yourself?
It’s not progressive or anything. It’s the truth. Like, if you are willing to argue that $7.25 cents an hour is an appropriate or fair minimum wage, then you’re a liar. It’s outrageous. It’s despicable. And it condemns people to a life below poverty-line subsistence. And that is deeply un-American. It’s deeply unfair. You know, all work has dignity. I fundamentally believe that. So all paychecks must have dignity.
I think most people agree with me on that. And if you don’t agree with me on that, you sure as hell don’t want to work for $7.25 an hour. If you’re working for $7.25 an hour and you think that’s a great minimum wage, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. Otherwise, you know, this is — it’s outrageous that we can allow that in our society. And I haven’t met that person working for $7.25 an hour that thinks, yeah, that’s good. I’m good.
I used to scoop ice cream for that amount of money about 15 years ago, so it’s kind of unbelievable that it’s still the prevailing wage in some places.
And again, I’m not talking about a 15-year-old that gets an after-school job or whatever. I’m talking about a 29-year-old single mother, you know, that might get stuck in some of these roles. It’s just crazy. Why do we kid ourselves and pretend that that’s anything remotely close to surviving,
That’s not progressive, that’s the fucking truth. Pardon my language. I don’t get caught up on labels, but it’s the truth. The truth doesn’t need a label. It’s the truth.
I know that in your 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor, you talked about, you know, paying more attention to Pennsylvania’s “forgotten cities,” like the one you were a mayor of. Can you explain what you meant by that? And Democrats — they’ve won the White House, which is a big feat, but there’s still a lot of concern about how they do in those forgotten cities that you talk about. So what lessons do you have?
It’s inevitable that if we’re going to reverse the fortunes of not only our party, but most importantly, and really only importantly, of these communities and regions, its reinvesting and acknowledging that these places deserve to be championed and reinvested in, especially ones like my community and others that have contributed so much when they were on the other side of that kind of economic equation. So that’s what I championed as mayor, and I have as lieutenant governor, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
What about the response from, you know, some liberals and some conservatives too, which is that maybe a lot of these people in forgotten cities — they’ve bought into some of this culture war stuff that obviously President Trump capitalized on where, look, you can cut their Medicare, but as long as you’re deporting immigrants, then that’s a trade-off they’re willing to accept.
Oh, I think that’s very condescending, and I don’t agree with that. I mean, there’s certainly unreachable people in either party that will never vote Democrat or Republican. That’s a fact. But otherwise, you can’t explain why Governor Wolf and I had a 900,000 vote swing between 2016 and 2018 [compared to Hillary Clinton]. And then almost 800,000 votes versus 2020. So like, are all these people, you know, like whatever you want to call them? No, Pennsylvania is populated by a majority of thoughtful people that want the best public policy solutions for their daily lives and their community, I fundamentally believe. That doesn’t in any way discount the inherent popularity of Donald Trump. He’s a once in a whatever kind of candidate for Republicans — you can’t argue with that.
So what do you think he explains his appeal? Obviously, he lost the state of Pennsylvania and we can get into that a little bit later, but a lot of people on the left — they find him loathsome and they don’t see anything redeemable in his personality. But a lot of people seem to like the reality show, obnoxious, blowhard aspect of him. Is it more his personality than ideological, you think?
I think it’s everything. I think it’s people reacting to a level of authenticity or rawness or a cult personality, whatever. You’re not going to convince me that Pennsylvania changed radically from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. You know, Luzerne County went from Barack Obama, twice, to Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. It’s simplistic and insulting to suggest that it was racism or whatever. I mean, well then how do you explain, how do you explain that kind of a swing if there’s not something else in place.
I’m curious about how you got into politics because as I understand it you weren’t a political teen, you weren’t even maybe a political 20-something.
I just was motivated by wanting to see the change in my community and with the young people I was working with and elective office was the best approach, I thought.
Was there when you saw that, you know, the current political establishment wasn’t getting things done? I mean, like what makes somebody like, “yeah, my committee’s derelict, I gotta do something”?
No, I don’t use the term, “the political establishment” or anything. I just ran because a couple of my students succumbed to gun violence and I just wanted to, you know, make some changes.
Where were you teaching at that point?
I was running a program for dislocated young people, that were either expelled or quit school, helping them get their GEDs or jobs and other things.
Could you expand on how you addressed gun violence as a public official? Because obviously, guns are a third rail in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Just understanding that we needed to reform community policing on a wholesale level. And that’s exactly what we did. You can address gun reform through better policing and to decrease the need for that type of interaction and that type of policy. I mean, the bottom line is, is that you have the truth: that policing needs to be reformed and does need to change, but you also need to have an acknowledgment that the police can and need to play a pivotal role in making sure communities can thrive and that are safe. And they do it in a way where the community feels respected and protected and uplifted, not occupied. And that’s what I tried to do as mayor.
You’re the first lieutenant governor that I’ve heard of. How have you tried to change how the office is used in Pennsylvania, using it as a kind of bully pulpit?
Well, it is an important office. I mean, you’re the vice president of Pennsylvania. You are chosen by the people of Pennsylvania to step in and, and lead the state as governor if, god forbid, something would happen or, you know, something changes. So that’s critical. And it also plays a pivotal role in criminal justice reform as chair of the Board of Pardons. Pennsylvania, like every other state in our society, has to begin to adopt and refine the idea of mercy and redemption for our criminal populations. This idea that we spend billions on warehousing and punishing people, and we spend less than a million dollars on their redemption and forgiveness, just so they can fully rejoin society if they’ve been living their best lives and they’ve paid their debt to society, is important. And I think that’s one of the main missing links and criminal justice conversation in America today.
Is it your experience that this kind of criminal justice reform is popular and just there’s been a hesitance among elected officials to act on it?
Well, I just think that if you did something really stupid 20 years ago, assuming it wasn’t something awful, like, you know, harming children or things of that nature — if you committed a garden variety crime, and you did that when you were young and you’ve been living your best life, that record follows you till the day you die and unless you get a pardon — and pardons is a process, as it should be — but this idea that you can’t ever achieve forgiveness or redemption, I think is flawed. To the exclusion of certain classes of classifications of crime, you should be able to work your way back into that position in society, and right now you’re currently not able to.
I’ll give you an example. There was a gentleman who ran for a city council race in a community nearby [Braddock]. And he was denied because he had a drug conviction from 25 years ago. And that’s outrageous. That’s crazy. I mean, he’s been living his best life. He was selected democratically by the people of his community. And I called for his pardon. And after I became lieutenant governor, I shepherded it and he has his pardon, and now he’s going to run for mayor of that community. And that’s what I’m talking about: This idea that people are not the sum total of one bed decision in their background. I think that needs to be inculcated more deeply in our criminal justice conversation.
Staying in the legal system, but pivoting to what I’ve seen you on CNN talking about, which is Donald Trump’s litigation in Pennsylvania.
I wouldn’t call it that. That’s an insult to litigation and lawyers everywhere. I want to be clear: this is not litigation. These are lies that are aired. They have to be aired. They are mandatorily aired absurdities and they’re crushed as soon as they are released and there’s never been any merit to it. Again, we have a president that has been saying one plus one equals three. And the people that have gone along with that are simply afraid of that retribution if they don’t. And I understand that, but at the end of the day, these were not lawsuits. These were lies that were brought into a court, and they were heard because they had to be heard. And as soon as they were heard, they were shut down and dismissed — even ridiculed.
But I guess my question for you: Is this just laughable and pathetic, as some of these judges have decided? I mean, should we laugh this off? How much alarm should it cause that the incumbent president of the United States is alleging some sort of widespread, indeed international, conspiracy to deprive him of the White House?
I don’t think there’s going to be any lasting harm because the bottom line is that the president’s supporters loved the election result in 2016. And they didn’t seem to find any flaws here in Pennsylvania. They like the elections that they win and they don’t like the elections that they lose. But fraud was never true and never will be true in Pennsylvania. So, you know, they know the truth and they’ll accept the results. They’re not going to be happy about it; I’m not saying we’re not all gonna come together. But there isn’t one person that genuinely believes that Hugo Chavez was part of a conspiracy — who I think died in 2013 — to steal the 2020 Pennsylvania election. No one believes that at all.
You say that there’s been no election fraud, but judging by your Twitter account you found at least two or three cases. I wonder if you could talk about that. Have you been in touch with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about collecting your reward?
No, no. My dude owes me $2 million in handsome reward because he was all about election fraud. And I’m like, “Hey dude, we got two cases here.” The fact that they happen to both be Trump voters is funny, but it’s immaterial because it demonstrates that, one, how rare it is, but also how hard it is to commit voter fraud. I’m only forced to conclude that he wasn’t actually very serious about voter fraud. And as far as I know, my dude hasn’t paid anybody for voter fraud because there hasn’t been any voter fraud. I mean, it’s so funny, it’s sad that this guy put a national call to pay for voter fraud. You know, let me see it. And he hasn’t paid a dime because the only voter fraud that he saw was from me, and it happened to involve two Trumpers voting for family members, either dead or alive. What he thought was clever messaging or whatever — actually, I can’t imagine anything more humiliating to prove just how ridiculous the point was in the first place that voter fraud was a part of this election.
I think you’ve established, journalists have established, courts have established that there was no widespread fraud in this election and Joe Biden is the duly-elected president. So looking forward, what does a successful Biden presidency look like to you? What are you hoping to see?
I hope that he, and I believe he will, establish that the coronavirus is the real enemy. It’s not each other; it’s not Trump voters. This virus has taken 250,000 of our country’s people. And we need to tamp that down. We need to bring it under control until we can eradicate it through the vaccine. And I hope that he pushes for a humane and respectable minimum wage. I hope he pushes for renewable energy. I hope he pushes for education and I hope he pushes for investing in our communities, like my own. I think all the things that the president turned his back on — a humane immigration policy, given my wife’s background and my commitment to immigration too. I mean, there’s any number of things that were withered or actively eradicated during the Trump presidency that Joe Biden can begin to cultivate and promote, whether or not there’s a Democratic Senate.
You’ve been getting a lot of national attention because of the Pennsylvania voter fraud claims, and I’m sure you’re sick of talking about that — or maybe not, because it’s kind of fun. But what is something that is being ignored during all this kind of silliness?
No, I think journalists have done a great job with, with all of this. I respect that they have a job to do. And my frustration through this whole process was that it needs to be called what it is. On Twitter, it’s “this claim is in dispute.” It’s like, no, it’s not in dispute. It’s a lie. If Donald Trump tweeted one plus one equals three, they would put a thing saying “this is in dispute.” I’m like, no, it’s not in dispute. It’s a lie. And that’s my frustration — it’s that a “dispute” means both sides; there’s ambiguity or there’s nuance or a lack of certainty on agreed fact. And that’s never been the case about this election. Everybody knows it was free, fair, and true. So the fact that it’s not in dispute, when only one person is telling lies, and there are a lot of people willing to get to carry that lie, isn’t a dispute. That is just a manufactured campaign to damage and harm the American franchise.
But my friends in Philly all want me to ask one question — they wanted me to ask if you are going to run for governor or Senate, but I’m not going to ask that.
You can ask me. I truthfully don’t know, but please tell your friends in Philadelphia that Sheetz is much better than Wawa, and that the Steelers are much better than the Eagles, and that I’m delighted that they won a Superbowl finally. I mean, we [the Steelers] have six and I want to make sure we spread Lombardis all across our Commonwealth. So I want to congratulate them.
You talk about unity and yet I hear division with this Sheetz and Wawa stuff.
No, no. What you’re hearing is more truth. You’re hearing truth. But I also am in awe of Gritty and I actually had him cast in Pennsylvania butter for the farm show last year, too. I got my Philly clout, too. I mean, name anyone that ever put Gritty in butter. I made a thousand-pound sculpture out of Gritty and butter. Like, if that doesn’t help my Philadelphia cred, oh my god, I don’t know what I got for you.
I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania and kind of a Wawa guy, right? We didn’t really have Sheetz. I think we had Turkey Hill come in towards my late teens. And I used to be an evangelist cause: look, Wawa has Amoroso rolls and it’s just at least as good as any deli. Well, they don’t have that anymore. They have these, I guess they call it “par-baked,” half-baked Amoroso rolls that they cook up like Subway. But what is the appeal of Sheetz? You got fresh rolls? What’s the deal?
My love of Sheetz comes from a lot of different things. When you put 80,000 miles on a campaign, a clean bathroom and a place where you can get your favorite drink and something to eat 24 hours a day, that’s your best friend. So I’m loyal to Sheetz. But Wawa’s great too, I’ll be honest with ya. It’s just one of those things that you can actually talk about in Pennsylvania in a way that you’re not going to get, you know, death threats. It’s just such a fun way to argue East versus West. And I’ve been to plenty of Wawas — my rule is that Wawa’s are great if you’re 50 miles or more away from Sheetz. Then you can go to Wawa.
It’s part of why I love Pennsylvania: the never-ending East versus West. Both are good. I’m a Sheetz guy. The Steelers will always be mine. But Gritty deserved to be in butter. Like, we don’t have a mascot that can come within 10 miles of Gritty. I call it like I see it. Gritty is king.
What do the Steelers even have? Is it like a steel beam?
Yeah, they have a guy named Steely McBeam, and it’s just like, ugh. What’s so funny is when Gritty came out, the [Pittsburgh] Penguins were like, “LOL. Okay.” Nobody foresaw that Gritty would become a cult hero — the anti-hero. I love Gritty, I love cheesesteaks, and I truly love Philadelphia. But I am a Western PA guy and I definitely love to make fun of the Steelers being undefeated whereas the Eagles I’ll just say are not. I’ll just leave it at that. They are not undefeated.
Real last question: In the age of Donald Trump, Biden is extremely not online, right? Like, he has an assistant posting those tweets. You are not. I’m not gonna say you’re extremely online, but you use Twitter a lot; you use “Simpsons.” It’s like following any one of my friends. So I’m wondering how you started using the internet and how you approach it.
Every tweet is mine. I personally author and send out every tweet that you see, and I try to be accessible. And I think that’s important. You know, social media is a rough place for anybody, but it’s important and necessary. And I think authenticity is important. And I want to make sure that you’re getting my unfiltered whatever-that-is, good or bad. There’s some social media accounts saying all tweets are mine that have my initials or whatever. I’m like, no, everything that comes through my @JohnFetterman account is, has been, and always will be just by me.
I think it’s critical, and I think people appreciate that, even my trolls. I can’t say that it’s the future. It’s here and it’s ever-present and the fact that Donald Trump has amassed 90 million Twitter followers is going to make him the next revolutionary political figure in the post-presidency life. Every other president has always kind of gone into retirement or become a statesman. And Donald Trump is going to, I said this, is going to continually lob chaos grenades and continue to wield himself as kingmaker in the Republican party, and with 90 million people on your platform that’s powerful. You can’t underestimate the power of it, quite frankly. So, um, so yeah, absolutely.
A lot of people believe — and I wish I could this is what I was going to do — that now that the GSA has determined that Biden is the apparent president-elect it’s time to ignore Donald Trump. Stop giving air to The Donald Trump Show.
Well, he’s going to run — 100% he’s gonna run. He is going to start running the minute he leaves the White House, untethered from whatever responsibilities of the presidency. I think people also have to acknowledge there was a codependency too with Trump. The New York Times subscription-base tripled under Donald Trump. I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure — Below Deck Mediterranean, that’s a guilty pleasure. This is more of a sinister one. But the idea, though, that he is going to learn how to paint or [start] a charitable philanthropic endeavor or whatever, no. The only thing that’s going to change is 45 to 46; he’s gonna remain in the thick of things in terms of absolutely controlling the Republican Party.
And you’re convinced that it’s all leading up to a 2024 run, not a Fox News rival.
Absolutely. Absolutely. The only thing that would change that is if something happens to his health. And I want to be clear, I was absolutely adamant that I wished the president a full recovery from COVID. I don’t wish that on anybody. If his health maintains the way it has, I guarantee he’s gonna run for president. I guarantee it. That’s the only wild card. No one knows how their health could turn when you’re in your 70s — or in your 50s, for that matter. But if he is in the same kind of condition that he is now, there is a guarantee that he’s going to run for president.
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