Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts is delivering the response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address next Tuesday night. The 37-year-old, who is serving his third term in the House, has been fairly unknown until recently — but, of course, he comes from a storied line of politicians. His father was in Congress, and he’s the grandson of Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s brother and Attorney General.
“Congressman Kennedy is a relentless fighter for working Americans,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press release. “While President Trump has consistently broken his promises to the middle class, Congressman Kennedy profoundly understands the challenges facing hardworking men and women across the country.”
Top party leaders have often put rising stars in the opposition role at SOTU, so we’re sure to see more of him in the coming years. The choice of Kennedy belies the values the Democratic Party wants to project at this crucial moment when it is hoping to make major gains in the quickly upcoming midterm elections. In its statement, the party’s leadership said, “Democrats are laser-focused on enacting policies to benefit middle-class Americans, not special interests or the wealthiest.”
Kennedy has spoken out forcefully against repealing the Affordable Care Act, and in favor of immigrant, refugee, and LGBTQ rights. His voting record is solidly pro-choice and he supports gun restrictions. One pivotal speech for him was when he called the Republican healthcare repeal bill an “act of malice.” The video got more than 10 million views on Facebook.
In a passionate rebuttal to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement that the new bill was an “act of mercy,” Kennedy said: “With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different scripture. The one that I read calls on us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, and to comfort the sick. It reminds us that we are judged not by how we treat the powerful but by how we care for the least among us.”
Kennedy has, however, worried legalization advocates with his views on recreational pot. “I don’t think marijuana should be legalized,” he told Boston magazine in 2016. “If we’re going to say marijuana is a medicine, it needs to be treated like a medicine and regulated like a medicine. But when we look at full-on legalization, the potential danger that marijuana poses particularly to adolescents — I’m not convinced.”
Before graduating from Harvard Law School (where Elizabeth Warren was his professor, nbd), Kennedy joined the Peace Corps and worked in the Dominican Republic, where he said he created a union to help tour guides earn higher wages. He also worked for a pro-bono law firm in Boston that helped families avoid foreclosure and helped create a program for at-risk youth.
In an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in August, shortly after Trump had tweeted that he wants to ban transgender people from serving in the military (something later ruled unconstitutional), Kennedy was candid about his feelings.
“Our men and women in uniform…they are willing to risk life and limb for us. They don’t discriminate and say, ‘I will lay down my life for you but not you,'” he told Noah. “[The GOP’s] cries [for freedom] ring hollow if you can’t deliver the basic fundamental freedom, which is the freedom to be you.”
While the response to Kennedy delivering the address is mostly a business-as-usual shrug, for some it’s a missed opportunity to position a woman or person of color in opposition to Trump — especially given the overwhelming support of women and people of color (not so much white men) for the Democratic Party.
Joe Kennedy is definitely up and coming, but in this year of a massive response against Trump organized by women , the belated recognition of black women as the backbone of the party, and the large # of women and minorities running for office, his selection is tone deaf.
— Kathleen (@KRV65) January 26, 2018
what if, and just hear me out, the party that women and people of color support had a future that wasn’t just white men
— Alli Gator 🌺🍌 (@PoliticalPup415) January 26, 2018
Some say it’s tone-deaf of the Democratic Party to promote yet another heir to a dynasty when there are marginalized voices in the wings waiting to be heard. Kennedy is one of the richest members of Congress, with an estimated worth of between $15 and $55 million.
2. If you’re not sure why Kennedy is a poor choice, read this paragraph about Democratic Party thinking and try not to laugh. This is one of the saddest, face-palmiest things I’ve read in a while. pic.twitter.com/Uz1k2YXAFW
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) January 26, 2018
3. If you’re looking a youngish, non-dynasty Democrat who’s good on camera and has national appeal, any of these three would rally the base and generate buzz for weeks:@SenDuckworth@JulianCastro@JasonKander
There are many others. Feel free to add.
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) January 26, 2018
But others say he’s just what the Democratic Party needs.
Dems made a very smart pick here. Joe Kennedy is a millennial and he’s polished. If family legacy does anything, it’ll be to remind ppl that when America was at the height of the “great” era that Trump and MAGA are nostalgic for, the country was run by a Democrat. https://t.co/VSHM9qeok1
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) January 26, 2018
Joe Kennedy is the future. Glad to see the Democrats embracing that.
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) January 26, 2018
Elizabeth Guzmán, who was elected in Virginia’s huge blue sweep in November, is delivering the Spanish-language response to the State of the Union. The Peruvian immigrant is the state’s first Latina state delegate.
Hell yeah! @guzman4delegate is one of my favorites (I love all of our new legislators though) because she’s a walking American dream, a real person, and a fighter for everyone. She embodies #cantstopwontstop and does it in high heels. https://t.co/wdpJV9WK0e
— Sarah Smith (@sarahsmithva) January 26, 2018
At least five Democrats will reportedly boycott the State of the Union, including Georgia Rep. John Lewis, California Rep. Maxine Waters, Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Several Democratic women confirmed to Refinery29 that they will wear black to the SOTU in solidarity with #MeToo and Time’s Up.
ANNOUNCEMENT: With all the racism coming from the White House, I will NOT be attending @realDonaldTrump‘s State of the Union.
Instead, we’ll focus on the State of OUR Union, our opposition to his agenda, and we will lift up a progressive and inclusive vision of our country. pic.twitter.com/dcAWMIkZZV
— Pramila Jayapal (@PramilaJayapal) January 15, 2018
We contacted Joe Kennedy’s office for comment and will update this story when we hear back.
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