Oz says he backs Biden on marijuana pardons and opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences

PHILADELPHIA — Mehmet Oz opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences and believes President Joe Biden made a “rational move” by announcing a broad forgiveness for some marijuana users, Oz, the Republican Senate candidate from Pennsylvania, said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC News.

The remarks represent a slight shift to the center in the final days of a race in which Oz, which is trailing in public polls, has repeatedly attacked Democratic rival John Fetterman as being too soft on crime.

Oz said he supports Biden’s decision to expunge the records of ex-convicts who were in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana, a rare area of ​​agreement with 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 these criminals – these decisions — held against them,” Oz said, crediting Biden with a “rational decision.”

He also said he widely opposes federal mandatory minimum jail sentences, just days after Fetterman voiced support for their application in more cases involving fentanyl dealers in a exclusive interview with NBC News.

“I really think judges should be empowered to make the tough decisions, and they generally do that well,” Oz said. “When we tie their hands making laws at the federal level, it hinders their ability to do what needs to be done.”

In a wide-ranging discussion that covered criminal justice issues, 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 not that he supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I think it was a devious effort to address some of the deep issues we have with race in America,” he said of BLM, which has organized racial justice protests across the country. after Minneapolis police murdered Floyd in May 2020. believe the Black Lives movement has done justice to the real struggle 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 quite a bit of work in these areas both as a clinician and on the show. We started #moreblackdoctors because there are clear issues that arise in the practice of medicine as it relates to black people,” he said. “If we’re going to tackle racial issues, we need to have more black doctors who feel part of the system and encourage more black people to join 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 made efforts to improve his standing — and hurt Fetterman’s — in black communities in Pennsylvania. Republicans have tried to make a problem following an incident in which Fetterman, armed with a gun, detained an unarmed black jogger when he was mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania in 2013. Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of the State, admitted having made a mistake.

Fetterman has never trailed in a major poll, but recent polls show the race has moved closer to statistical margins of error. An average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics suggested a 3.7 percentage point advantage — 46% to 42.3% — for Fetterman on Thursday afternoon.

Fetterman described Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident, as a porter who has shifted his stance on issues since winning the controversial GOP primary with the help of former President Donald’s endorsement. Trump. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and lost it in 2020.

Oz and his fellow Republicans have portrayed Fetterman as overly liberal on the economy and public safety. They also accused him of not being honest with Pennsylvania voters about his health. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May, just before winning the Democratic primary, and he had a pacemaker with a defibrillator installed to monitor and regulate his heart rate.

Following the stroke, Fetterman struggled with auditory processing issues that force him to use closed captioning in interviews, and he said he sometimes had trouble finding the right word. .

Democrats have slammed Oz for its campaign hits on Fetterman’s health. In August, an Oz wizard said Fetterman wouldn’t have suffered a stroke if he had “never eaten a vegetable in his life.” In another caustic barb, the Oz team offered to pay for any additional medical personnel Fetterman might want during a debate and allow him to raise his hand and say “toilet break” at any time.

Oz did not apologize to Fetterman.

“It’s been a tough campaign for both teams,” Oz said on Thursday. “I have accepted responsibility and deal with issues as they arise. But he has his own problems. I think we have to, again, look each other in the eye and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do in the future. We should have had a debate already.

But Oz maintained he had “tremendous compassion” for Fetterman and thinks it was brave for him to give NBC News a face-to-face interview last week. He also said his dispute with Fetterman was about not disclosing his medical records.

“I believe that people with disabilities can serve and should serve. I would never hold that against anyone,” Oz said. “The issue for me is that Pennsylvania voters deserve transparency.”

He said he watched Fetterman’s interview with NBC News and thought, “He probably wants to release his records, but he doesn’t.” So why not?”

When asked why he refused requests to share his medical records and make his doctors available for interviews, Fetterman said in the interview that he was not aware of any symptoms not disclosed and argued that he had been open with the public about his health and recovery, including the challenges of auditory processing.

As both campaigns continued for transparency, NBC News asked Oz to answer questions during the same time as Fetterman; his campaign declined. Oz’s aides, citing time constraints, ended the interview after 17 minutes, about half of the 33 minutes Fetterman gave for his interview.

The two candidates are due to meet on a debate stage on October 25 after weeks of tense public negotiations. The most competitive Senate races feature at least one debateand Oz had asked for more than expected.

On abortion, Oz reiterated that he opposes the procedure unless it involves rape, incest, or risk to the woman’s life. He declined to say directly whether he would support Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C.’s proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, but hinted he would not support it.

“I don’t want federal rules limiting what states do with abortion,” he said, saying his point was broader than the issue of Graham’s bill. “It should be up to the states.”

In 2019, Oz said he “didn’t want to interfere in anybody’s business” in response to a question about abortion, but more recently called it murder.

“I’ve always been pro-life,” he told NBC News. “In that interview you mention, I said I was pro-life.”

While Oz spent much of his campaign hitting Fetterman on crime, he offered few specific policy solutions. He said Congress should use its subpoena powers to pressure local governments for answers on crime, and he promoted federal school choice grants as an answer. He also said Philadelphia needs a liquid natural gas facility, saying drilling more in Pennsylvania would create jobs, export energy and reduce inflation.

He dismissed 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.

“Being released from prison, especially if you’ve been sentenced to life in prison, is a whole different game,” he said.

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