PHILADELPHIA – Mehmet Oz opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences and believes President Joe Biden made a “rational move” by announcing a broad pardon for certain marijuana users, said Oz, the Republican candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, the Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
The comments represent a slight shift to the center in the final days of a race in which Oz, trailing in public polls, has repeatedly attacked Democratic rival John Fetterman for being too soft on crime.
Oz said he supports Biden’s decision to expunge the records of ex-felons who were in federal prison solely on simple marijuana possession charges, a rare area according to Biden and Fetterman.
“Going to jail for marijuana is not a wise move for the country. I think people who have used marijuana and that’s the only reason they’re in jail shouldn’t have those criminal convictions against them,” Oz said, crediting Biden for a “rational move.”
He also said he broadly opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences, just days after Fetterman expressed support for them in more cases involving fentanyl traffickers in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
“I really think judges should be empowered to make the tough decisions and they generally do well,” Oz said. “When we tie their hands by making laws at the federal level, it hinders their ability to do what needs to be done.”
In a wide-ranging discussion that spanned topics of criminal justice, race, abortion and Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke in May, Oz stressed that his campaign literature advocating “justice for George Floyd” does not mean he supports the movement. Black Lives Matter.
“I think it was a hijacked effort to address some of the deep issues that we have with race in America,” he said of BLM, which staged racial justice protests across the country after Minneapolis police killed Floyd in May 2020. “I don’t think the Black Lives movement did justice to the real fight we have.”
Oz, a political newcomer who is best known as a TV doctor, said he wants to reduce disparities in health outcomes between black and white patients, particularly in the area of infant mortality.
“I’ve done a lot of work in these areas both as a clinician and on the show. We started #moreblackdoctors because there are some obvious problems that occur in the practice of medicine when it comes to black people,” he said. “If we’re going to deal with racial issues, we need to have more black doctors who feel part of the system and encourage more black people to become members of the health care system.”
To win, Oz will need to find pockets of voters who don’t traditionally identify with the GOP. He has already gone out of his way to improve his position, and harm Fetterman’s, in Pennsylvania’s black communities. Republicans have tried to make an issue out of an incident in which Fetterman, armed with a gun, stopped an unarmed black runner when he was mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, in 2013. Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, acknowledged he made a mistake. . .
Fetterman has never fallen behind in a major poll, but recent polls show the race has closed within statistical margins of error. An average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics suggested a 3.7 percentage point lead (46% to 42.3%) for Fetterman on Thursday afternoon.
Fetterman has portrayed Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident, as a hoarder who has changed his position on issues since winning the contentious Republican primary with the help of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and lost it in 2020.
Oz and other Republicans have portrayed Fetterman as too liberal on the economy and public safety. He has also been accused of not being truthful with Pennsylvania voters about his health. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May, just before winning the Democratic primary, and was fitted with a pacemaker with a defibrillator to monitor and regulate his heartbeat.
As a result of the stroke, Fetterman has dealt with auditory processing issues that require him to use subtitles in interviews, and he said he sometimes has difficulty finding the right word.
Democrats have criticized Oz for his campaign attacks on Fetterman’s health. In August, an Oz aide said Fetterman would not have had a stroke if he had “ever eaten a vegetable in his life.” In another caustic barb, Oz’s team offered to pay for any additional medical personnel Fetterman might need in a debate and allow him to raise his hand and say “bathroom break” at any time.
Oz has not apologized to Fetterman.
“The season has been tough for both teams,” Oz said Thursday. “I accept responsibility and deal with problems as they arise. But he has his own set of problems of his. I think we have to look, again, in the face and say: ‘This is what we are going to do in the future’. We should have had a debate already.”
But Oz said he has “tremendous compassion” for Fetterman and believes it was brave of him to give a face-to-face interview with NBC News last week. He also said his dispute with Fetterman is about not releasing his medical records.
“I believe that people with disabilities can and should serve. I would never blame anyone for that,” Oz said. “The problem for me is that Pennsylvania voters deserve transparency.”
He said he saw Fetterman’s interview with NBC News and thought, “He probably wants to put his records out, but he doesn’t. Then why not?”
Asked why he turned down requests to share his medical records and make his doctors available for interviews, Fetterman said in the interview that he is not aware of any undisclosed symptoms and argued that he has been open with the public about his illness. health and recovery. including auditory processing challenges.
As both campaigns have been dogged by transparency, NBC News asked Oz to answer questions for the same amount of time as Fetterman; his campaign faltered. Oz’s aides, citing time constraints, ended the interview after 17 minutes, roughly half the 33 minutes Fetterman allowed for his interview.
The two candidates will meet on a debate stage on October 25 after weeks of tense public negotiations. Most competitive Senate races include at least one debate, and Oz had pushed for more than was scheduled.
On abortion, Oz reiterated that he opposes the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the woman’s life. He declined to say directly whether he would support Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.C.,’s proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, but hinted that he would not.
“I don’t want any federal rules that limit what states do with abortion,” he said, saying his point of view was bigger than the issue of Graham’s bill. “It should be up to the states.”
In 2019, Oz said he didn’t “want to interfere with other people’s things” in response to a question about abortion, but more recently he referred to it as murder.
“I’ve always been pro-life,” she told NBC News. “In that interview you mention, I said I was pro-life.”
While Oz has spent much of his campaign criticizing Fetterman for the crime, he offered few specific policy solutions of his own. He said Congress should use its subpoena powers to pressure local governments for answers about crime, and in response he promoted federal subsidies for school choice. He also said Philadelphia needs a liquid natural gas facility, arguing that drilling more in Pennsylvania would create jobs, export energy and reduce inflation.
He rejected a comparison between Fetterman’s efforts to win clemency for violent offenders in Pennsylvania and Trump’s First Step Act, which provided for the early release of nonviolent convicts.
“Getting released from prison, especially if you’ve been sentenced to life, is a whole different game,” he said.