Transcript: Senator John Fetterman on “Face the Nation,” May 5, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, which aired on May 5, 2024.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That was our Mark Strassmann and we now turn to Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman. He arrives this morning from Orlando, Florida, where he spent the weekend campaigning for President Biden's re-election. Welcome to the show, Senator.

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN: Hello. Good to be here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Glad you're here. You're bursting with it. Would you like to tell us what you are responding to?

SEN. FETTERMAN: Oh, that interview, that was great.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Well, let me ask you a question about the Democrats and your own party. I know you spent a lot of time on that this past weekend. You've been outspoken about the protesters we were just talking about with our reporter. The Director of National Intelligence testified this week that there is no US intelligence that Hamas is influencing or in any way directing the protests in the US. But I know you said that while protesting is a great American value, I don't think living in a sub-tent really helps Hamas. Do you consider raising the Palestinian flag anti-Semitic? Or have you actually seen the Hamas flag at some of these protests?

SEN. FETTERMAN: No, no, I don't think so, but – but I will – I will say that these kinds of protests have not been helpful. And ironically, they are actually working against peace in the Middle East as well. And it is also very strange to me that they are not really protesting for a ceasefire now, and that there is now a very valid ceasefire on the table and Hamas has refused to take it on. And I don't know why we don't… if we're going to protest, why don't we protest the fact that you're demanding Hamas to make such a ceasefire? And then that would put an end to all the trauma and chaos that's going on there in Gaza.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, many of these young protesters are protesting President Biden's Israel policy, as Israel is a recipient of American taxpayer money and US-supplied weapons. Hamas is not. Hamas is a designated terrorist group. So do you have any problem with the attempt to influence the president's policies through protest?

SEN. FETTERMAN: Well, like I said, I don't. I will never support any condition for Israel during this period. And again, I continue to emphasize that Hamas is again responsible for all that. And now. If you're going to protest on these campuses, or whatever, they're going to go all over America. I really want, and cannot forget, that the situation right now could end right now if Hamas would just surrender. And they just sent all those hostages back home. And that's something that I'm also frustrated by: now that those hostages should really be at the forefront of the conversations about the situation in Gaza, sending them home would really, you know, end all of this immediately.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well understood, but these protesters, are you saying that by protesting the president's policies you view any opposition to the president's policies as merely pro-Hamas? Or is it something specific that you have a problem with?

SEN. FETTERMAN: I mean, it's completely normal if you disagree with the president on this issue or on many other issues. But it's very strange that when we have this incredible, important election right in front of us, we still have about six months to go, and it's really two stark choices. You have Joe Biden, an excellent president, and then you have Donald Trump, who is now in a lawsuit over the bribery of a former adult film star. And it's really a stark, stark contrast here and – and if you're willing to walk away from Joe Biden, it's inevitable – you're actually supporting Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I have to talk to you on the other side of this break about other issues that impact this election, so please stay with us, Senator. We come back.

– ADVERTISEMENT –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation, as we return to our conversation with Democratic Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. Senator, you recently said you would vote for a Senate version of the House anti-Semitism bill. The ACLU said federal law already prohibits anti-Semitic discrimination and that this bill would chill free speech. Do these concerns resonate with you?

SEN. FETTERMAN: I disagree. I was one of the co-leaders and sponsors of that bill. So of course I'm going to vote yes on that. And I think it's a very valid concern that really made that possible – that – I mean, that's an overwhelming vote, a bipartisan vote in the House as well. I think it's a great bill, and I look forward to voting for it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But sorry, just to clarify: you agree with the ACLU's statement that it's wrong to equate criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism?

SEN. FETTERMAN: No, well… I- I- I'm not really sure. What's actually… I don't agree. I mean, I think a lot about the criticism right now, during the Gaza war, I think there's also some anti-Semitism at the root. You don't have to agree with the Israeli government, but a lot of the protests and a lot of the words that are being thrown around on a lot of these campuses are actually really bad. anti-Semitism.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, I was just… The ACLU comment was about the House bill. That's why I wanted to clarify that. So you've been to Florida, as we mentioned, for this Democratic fundraiser. Our CBS polls show that President Biden is in a very close race with Mr. Trump in your home state of Pennsylvania. 61% of registered voters say Pennsylvania's economy was better during the Trump era. 55% said Mr. Biden worries them, up from 48%. Who says Trump. How exciting will this race be?

SEN. FETTERMAN: Sorry we're having a technical problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. I asked you about CBS polls showing a very tight race in the state of Pennsylvania. Can you hear me, sir?

SEN. FETTERMAN: It doesn't work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Okay. I'll ask again. Sir, if you can hear me.

SEN. FETTERMAN: Now it works. Now it works. Now I can, yes

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Certainly. In the state of Pennsylvania, our CBS polls show that it will be a very close presidential race for the re-election of Joe Biden.

JOHN FETTERMAN: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The issue of the economy is of paramount importance and in your state our polling shows that there is more confidence in Trump's leadership on the economy than in Biden's, and this is very acute around the issue of oil and gas. How concerned are you?

SEN. FETTERMAN: I'm not – I'm not worried about that. And I want to be very clear: Joe Biden defeated Trump in Pennsylvania and he's going to do it again. But it will be very close. Absolute. I mentioned that, I've been having the same conversation since 2016, that it's going to be very competitive. And now that is of course a problem for oil and gas, but that will not be the case. It will determine the race and that's for sure. Again, we have those two very stark choices between the two. And it is very clear that it will certainly not be a determining factor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we'll be paying a lot of attention to your state in the coming months. Senator, thank you for your time today. We will be right back.

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