A super PAC that supports Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick has been flooding the airwaves in the Keystone State with ads attacking his opponent, cardiac surgeon and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, as a “Hollywood liberal” and RINO, or Republican in Name Only.
The ads tie Oz to the widespread hiring of immigrants who are in the country illegally, saying, “Oz’s family company hired illegal immigrants.” Oz is a shareholder but had no role in running the company.
The ads also point to prior statements Oz has made on the Affordable Care Act, abortion and gun laws. Oz has taken public positions in the campaign contrary to those past statements.
One of the ads also accuses Oz of being “liberal” and “woke” because he “posted about Black Lives Matter on social media.” Oz posted a message about “systemic racism” in the medical field that creates “disparities in the health outcomes of black people.” The post linked to a video about health that briefly mentions and shows protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020. But Oz said he does “not support the actions being taken by the Black Lives Matter organization and its leadership” and that “BLM has the wrong approach at every level.”
Oz and McCormick, and groups supporting them, have been trading attack ads on the Pennsylvania airwaves for weeks. (See our analysis of some of the attack ad claims being levied by the Oz camp against McCormick here.)
According to a recent Trafalgar Group poll, Oz is the leading candidate in the Republican primary, with McCormick running second in a very crowded Republican primary field. Other candidates include: Carla Sands, former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Denmark; conservative commentator Kathy Barnette; and real estate investor Jeff Bartos. They are seeking to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey.
The ads targeting Oz come from Honor Pennsylvania, a super PAC supporting McCormick. Many of the claims in the ads are the same, and seek to portray Oz as a liberal masquerading as a conservative. We’ll provide some context about the claims.
Two of the ads that take aim at Oz claim “his family business hired illegals.” But the link here is tangential. Oz is not accused of having anything to do with hiring people who were in the country illegally.
It’s true that in 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, after a six-year investigation, reached the largest ever $95 million civil settlement agreement with Asplundh Tree Experts Co., a company in which Oz is a shareholder. The company pleaded guilty to hiring immigrants who were in the country illegally, and the settlement came “in connection with a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States,” according to an ICE press release.
Federal investigators said after an audit of Asplundh by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, managers devised a scheme that involved rehiring thousands of immigrants in the country illegally under fake names and Social Security numbers, with those workers representing as much as 10% of the company’s 30,000-person workforce.
“Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet,” Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, said in a statement after the settlement was reached in 2017. A regional manager and two supervisors pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.
The Asplundh Tree Experts Co., which trims trees and removes brush from power and gas lines, was co-founded by Carl Asplundh, the maternal grandfather of Oz’s wife, Lisa. Federal Election Commission records list Mehmet Oz as a “shareholder” of the company (the records were related to a $5,000 contribution by Oz to the company’s political action committee in 2020).
“Neither Dr. Oz nor Lisa Oz have even worked at the company or had any involvement in decision-making regarding its business practices, period,” campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine told the New York Post.
“The company reached a civil settlement in 2017 with the federal government with no further action taken since then,” she added. “Dr. Oz and Lisa Oz are passive shareholders in the company along with 200+ other family members. As passive, minority shareholders, Dr. Oz and Lisa Oz had zero involvement in the settlement.”
Corporate records in Pennsylvania confirm that Oz has never been employed as an executive at the company.
All three ads seek to portray Oz as an abortion rights supporter, based on comments he made in a radio interview in 2019.
Oz’s campaign website says Oz “is 100% Pro-Life.” He got a little more specific in an interview with WGAL in Pennsylvania on Dec. 1, saying, “I’m pro-life with the three usual exceptions, especially the health of the mother, but incest and rape as well.” Asked if he believed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion should be overturned, Oz said, “I’m OK with the Supreme Court making the right decision based on what they think the Constitution says.”
Oz reiterated that position in a Fox News interview in December. Asked when he believes life begins, Oz said, “If I’m pro-life, then that’s a decision that comes back to the sanctity of when you think life does begin. And I believe that begins when you’re in the mother’s womb.”
Oz later provided Newsweek a statement to clarify, “I believe life begins at conception.”
“My whole life has been about saving lives,” Oz told Newsweek. “As a heart surgeon, I have held a beating heart in my hand, and I understand how precious life is—it’s why I am pro-life. As the Senator for Pennsylvania, I will vote to protect the sanctity of life and the unborn.”
That’s a different position from the one he espoused in an interview on “The Breakfast Club” radio show on May 21, 2019. The ad attacking Oz includes a clip from that interview of Oz saying “but the heart’s not beating.”
In the interview, Oz was asked about a law that had recently passed in Alabama that banned all abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger (no exceptions were made for rape or incest), and the so-called “heartbeat laws” being considered in other states that would ban abortion after six or eight weeks into a pregnancy.
“I’m really worried about it,” Oz said in the interview. “I tell you, I’ve taken care of a lot of women who had issues around childbirth. The problem with the law as it stands now is, I think the law was only passed to generate a Supreme Court challenge. But most people don’t know they’re pregnant. It’s two weeks past your last period when you have to decide by. I have people on the show all the time who never know they are pregnant, even when they are delivering. Fifty percent of women don’t know they’re pregnant when they are pregnant. So you’re asking women to decide almost instantaneously if they are pregnant or not. And it’s also banned in cases of incest and rape. So I don’t quite get it, as a doctor.”
“And the other thing is this whole thing about heart beating,” Oz said. “I mean, there are electrical changes at six weeks. But the heart’s not beating. If you were to say, starting from when we can hear the heart, like when the heart is really doing something, that would be different. That’s not six weeks though. So if you can define life by a beating heart, then make it a beating heart. Not little electrical changes in a cell that no one here would think about as a heart.”
A host on the show said she was concerned the laws would ban safe abortions and that women determined to get abortions would seek dangerous illegal abortions, as women have in the past.
“As a doctor, just putting my doctor hat on, it’s a big-time concern,” Oz said. “Because I went to medical school in Philadelphia and I saw women who’d had coat hanger events. They’re really traumatic events that happen, when they were younger, before Roe v. Wade. And many of them were harmed for life.”
Oz went on to say that he “wouldn’t want anyone in my family to have an abortion” and that he had told his children, “I love the lives they’re creating so much that I personally wouldn’t want it. But I don’t want to interfere with everyone else’s stuff.”
Oz said the “rule that most Americans seem to support is, if the child was viable outside the womb, then you don’t want to kill that child. If the child was not going to be able to survive outside the mom, then the mom runs the show.”
Oz said he was comfortable with states having different laws when it comes to abortion. “We’re supposed to be a little different from each other,” he said. If, in Alabama, “you want to ban abortion, make that loud and clear. But there’s going to be a big sucking sound of businesses leaving there.”
“If someone deep in their heart feels that the moment of conception is a human life, and they just can’t deal with that life being harmed, they got to be heard,” Oz said. “They can’t get ignored. But that doesn’t mean that’s what the rule of the land is. An issue like that is a moral issue. I think if people thought about it, logically worked through it, most Americans already agree on what the right answer is.”
Readers can make of those comments what they will, but as we said, Oz during the campaign has taken a different position.
According to his campaign website, “Dr. Oz is a proud gun owner and will fight back at any attempts to restrict law-abiding gun owners of their constitutional rights.”
All three Honor Pennsylvania ads, however, claim Oz would take away Second Amendment rights. As evidence, the ads cite a segment Oz featured on his TV show about “red flag laws.”
Red flag laws seek to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
As of Jan. 1, 2020, 16 states and the District of Columbia had some form of red flag laws, according to the RAND Corporation. But as we have noted in previous stories, there is wide disparity in how those states implement the laws. For example, only law enforcement officials in some states can petition for an extreme risk protection order, or ERPO, while other states allow family members or medical professionals to do so. In addition, some states permit ex parte ERPOs, meaning that guns can be confiscated before a person has an opportunity to challenge the order in court. There is also wide disparity between states with regard to how long the orders last.
Oz didn’t get into those details when he hosted a segment on his show about red flag laws.
Oz did, however, seem to offer tacit endorsement of red flag laws when he said at the start of the segment: “Another thing that may help protect you and your family are red flag laws, which can stop down more mass shootings, according to new research.”
Oz said he thought it was “vital” that people lodging the complaints be allowed to remain anonymous. “If somebody’s already dangerous, a co-worker, you don’t want to make yourself a target by telling everybody, ‘Hey, I think you’re dangerous,’” Oz said. “Part of the hope, I gather, is that we’ll make a system so that I can call in and say, ‘There’s evidence besides my testimony that this person is dangerous. Look at their Facebook feed or social media postings. Or comments they’ve made to other co-workers besides me. Do a little investigating. I’m alerting you, putting a little red flag up there saying this person is a concern.'”
After Fox News published a story in December about Oz’s red flag segment, Oz sent Fox a statement that said, “As a proud gun owner myself, I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment and our constitutional right to bear arms for protection. I do not believe there should be any policy or law, state or federal, that prevents a law-abiding American from purchasing a gun without due process and fair adjudication.”
As a candidate, Oz has not been specific about what sort of health care changes he supports.
His campaign website says that as a senator, Oz would “work to dismantle policies that lead to more expensive prescription drugs for our seniors, and he’ll expand access to private sector plans expanded by President Trump and beloved by seniors for their low costs and high quality that could be available to all Americans who want them.”
It’s unclear whether that’s a reference to a Medicare Advantage for All proposal that Oz and George Halvorson, former CEO of Kaiser Permanente, wrote about in a June 2020 opinion piece for Forbes.
According to the plan, the government would buy “health-care coverage for every American who is not on Medicaid through the Medicare Advantage program, which a third of Medicare beneficiaries already use very successfully.” This universal coverage would be paid for through a 20% payroll tax, “which is close to the amount most employers currently spend to buy insured care. Half would be paid by employers, so individual Americans would pay no more than 10% of their income to pay for much better coverage than is currently available to most.”
An Honor Pennsylvania ad says Oz “promoted Obamacare,” and there is evidence that at one time he did, at least to an extent.
In November 2010, eight months after then-President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, and after a bruising election season of Republican attack ads against it, Oz starred in an ad from the nonpartisan California Endowment, a proponent of the law, urging Californians to enroll in the new Affordable Care Act plans.
“Whether your side won or lost, the yelling season is through,” Oz said in the ad. “It’s time to get over it and get on with it. I went into medicine to help people live longer, healthier lives. But that’s so hard right now. More than half of all personal bankruptcies are triggered by a medical problem and that’s got to stop. Right here, right now, there is a historic opportunity to do just that, to make health care better for millions of Californians, to make health care better and more affordable for you. The new health care law has so much in it that could help Californians get better and more affordable health care, but it’s up to the people of this state — and its elected leaders — to make sure that you get all you can out of the new law. Find out what the new law can do for you and your family at the California Endowment’s website: calendow.org. Get educated, get engaged, get enrolled.”
Six years later, in an interview with Fox Business in October 2016, Oz said, “I think Obamacare was a very brave effort to include more Americans in the health care system. The problem with it though is that there was compromise required to get it passed, which limited its ability to address the quality of care and more importantly the cost of care.”
Asked about the ad’s claim that he “promoted Obamacare,” Oz told CNN, “I made a public service announcement around the law that was designed to give more people coverage. That’s not the problem with Obamacare. The problem is that it didn’t deal with the important issue of costs.”
Oz later told CNN via email that “Obamacare and its rising costs have destroyed our healthcare system.”
Black Lives Matter
To buttress its case that Oz is a Republican in Name Only, one of the Honor Pennsylvania ads says: “Oz posted about Black Lives Matter on social media.”
On screen, it says, “Liberal Oz Woke Twitter Post.”
This is the tweet in question from June 11, 2020:
The effects of systemic racism have long been prevalent in the medical field, creating disparities in the health outcomes of black people – and the #covid19 pandemic has only exacerbated these disparities. pic.twitter.com/Mj5MheuARB
— Dr. Mehmet Oz (@DrOz) June 11, 2020
So, Oz posted a message about health disparities that included a two-minute video about discrimination driving health inequities for Black Americans and the impact of implicit bias on health care. The video only briefly mentions the protests over Floyd’s killing and includes footage of a demonstration against racism in which some protesters are carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Oz echoed his concerns about implicit bias during an interview in September 2020 on “The Rashad Richey Morning Show,” a radio program.
“I think most doctors are doing their best to help,” Oz said. “But the fact that you could have implicit bias and blind spots, even within medicine, that it’s measurable with the kind of data we have now on increased mortality rates, it’s stunning.
“What I didn’t realize until this recent study came out this past month was that Black infants are roughly twice as likely to die under the care of a white physician than under the care of a Black physician,” Oz said. “Now take a step back, how is it possible that the color of the person taking care of you alters your mortality rate. And I don’t think white physicians are purposely trying to be racist or hurt Black babies. I mean, that would be crazy. I think that there’s cultural differences that lead to huge gaps.”
Oz made a pitch for the #moreblackdoctors campaign because “we know that being cared for by someone who understands you saves your life.”
But Oz said in a December 2021 interview with the New York Post that he did not support the Black Lives Matter protests.
“I do not support the actions being taken by the Black Lives Matter organization and its leadership,” Oz said. “BLM has the wrong approach at every level.” He said the movement had “incit[ed] violence and property destruction.”
“While our Constitution protects the right to peaceably assemble, anything that involves rioting, looting, or destruction needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Oz said. “We need to support law enforcement and provide them with the tools and resources they need to do their job of keeping our communities safe — including keeping dangerous criminals off the street.”
Oz also said he opposed the teaching of critical race theory in schools, saying, “We should not be teaching or telling students that America is inherently racist.” Critical race theory is the idea that racism is embedded in the laws and rules of U.S. social institutions, such as the legal or health care systems.
Again, in his tweet and interview, Oz talked about “systematic racism” and “implicit [racial] bias” in the medical profession.
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