John Fetterman: A Less Progressive Senator?

Exploring the Political Evolution of John Fetterman.

by Nouman Rasool
John Fetterman: A Less Progressive Senator?
© Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Once considered a rising star on the left, Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman's political journey has taken a turn, revealing a more complex stance than his early progressive branding suggested. Fetterman, who found an early ally in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during his 2022 Democratic race, initially echoed the sentiments of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, advocating for policies like a higher minimum wage and universal healthcare.

However, recent months have seen Fetterman diverge from his party's left wing, particularly over his staunch support for Israel and continued U.S. funding for its operations in Gaza. This shift has not only drawn criticism from his left-leaning peers but also garnered unexpected praise from Republicans, especially after Fetterman's critical comments on what he termed a "crisis at our border." Fetterman's distancing from progressive politics became starkly apparent in December when he declared, "I’m not a progressive, I’m just a regular Democrat." This statement contradicted his earlier self-identification as a "progressive Democrat," raising eyebrows among those who tracked his political trajectory.

Fetterman's Progressive Past

Fetterman's progressive credentials were well-established during his tenure as Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, a role he assumed in 2018 after a campaign characterized by progressive ideals.

His advocacy for clemency in certain life sentence cases and his defiance of state law to marry same-gender couples in Braddock, Pennsylvania, solidified his left-leaning image. Additionally, his vigorous defense of Pennsylvania’s election system post-2020 election further endeared him to progressive supporters.

Yet, Fetterman's recent actions and statements, especially following the October 7 Hamas attacks and his take on border issues, have cast him in a different light politically. Adding to the intrigue, his wife Gisele Fetterman, a prominent figure in his Senate campaign, briefly exited social media following controversy over Fetterman's remarks to the New York Post about the migration crisis.

Fetterman's political maneuvers have been closely scrutinized, not least his response to a protest against the killing in Gaza, where he was seen waving a large Israeli flag. Despite his endorsements and past progressive stances, Fetterman has maintained a distinct identity, distancing himself from the "Squad" of progressive Democrats in Congress and expressing support for contentious issues like fracking.