OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Sen. John Fetterman made his return to Congress on Monday afternoon, but video and photos of his appearance quickly went viral and led to new concerns from Republicans.
The Pennsylvania Democrat showed up in a black hoodie and shorts after six weeks of treatment for clinical depression.
The senator declined to answer any questions from the press as he entered the Capitol, which was one of the few visits since assuming office in January, Fox News reported.
“It’s great to be back. Thank you,” he repeatedly said as he walked into the building.
Democrat Senator John Fetterman refuses to take questions as he returns to the Capitol for the first time since mid-February pic.twitter.com/JyTRQ1sIKe
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 17, 2023
Several conservatives responded to Fetterman’s arrival and appearance.
“Welcome back to John Fetterman, further proof that cognition, speech comprehension, emotional balance, and even showing up for work are no longer necessary for a career in Democrat politics!” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk noted.
Welcome back to John Fetterman, further proof that cognition, speech comprehension, emotional balance, and even showing up for work are no longer necessary for a career in Democrat politics!
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) April 17, 2023
“How could anyone take the calls for @SenFeinstein to step down seriously when the DEMs spend more than a year excusing the deteriorating health of @JohnFetterman? If you supported Fetterman running for Senate or didn’t raise concerns about his health, please take several seats,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) added.
If you supported Fetterman running for Senate or didn't raise concerns about his health, please take several seats. pic.twitter.com/vBdOR8eyko
— Byron Donalds (@ByronDonalds) April 17, 2023
Fox News noted that Fetterman is scheduled to chair his first subcommittee hearing days after returning from his weeks-long absence.
On Monday morning, his office issued a statement confirming that Fetterman is set to preside over his inaugural hearing on Wednesday. The statement also criticized Republicans for their efforts to enforce stricter work requirements for individuals receiving food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“Cut SNAP for families and kids while pushing tax cuts for billionaires?” the brief statement began. “Not on my watch.”
“Sen. Fetterman on Wednesday will chair his first subcommittee hearing in the Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research for a hearing will focus specifically on SNAP and the critical assistance it provides to working families through the upcoming Farm Bill,” his office noted further in the press release.
Fetterman’s brain injury following a near-fatal stroke in May 2022 has likely left him with permanent damage, according to his chief of staff.
In February, his office announced that he had left the hospital after a two-day stay after the Pennsylvania Democrat suffered an episode of dizziness.
“A few minutes ago, Senator Fetterman was discharged from the hospital. In addition to the CT, CTA, and MRI tests ruling out a stroke, his EEG test results came back normal, with no evidence of seizures. John is looking forward to returning to the Senate on Monday,” his spokesman Joe Calvello said on Twitter.
As the 53-year-old senator began day three in the hospital for what his team called “lightheadedness,” The New York Times said that some of those close to Fetterman are concerned about his health. Not long afterward, he checked into the Walter Reed Medical Center on the advice of the congressional physician to undergo treatment for clinical depression.
Fetterman gave his first interview earlier this month after being discharged, sitting down with CBS News, and something about the Pennsylvania Democrat’s demeanor immediately became apparent to observers.
“In his first interview since leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” the Western Journal noted, “Fetterman’s inability to keep his eyes forward is an indication that he’s constantly reading from a captioning screen, translating interviewer Jane Pauley’s questions and possibly even cuing him on his own answers.”
It wasn’t clear that Fetterman was reading from anything, but he certainly appeared to be averting his gaze toward his right side as if to be looking at something.
Six weeks after entering Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for inpatient treatment for depression, Sen. @JohnFetterman shares his struggle with depression, his health, and more in an intimate interview with Jane Pauley this "Sunday Morning." pic.twitter.com/3o2926I48B
— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) March 31, 2023
That said, in the weeks following his serious stroke about a year ago — and before the November election in which he defeated Trump-backed GOP nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz — Fetterman relied on closed captioning from a computer screen during an interview with MSNBC because he was unable to hear questions correctly.
“In small talk before the interview, without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns said to Lester Holt on “NBC Nightly News” report.