Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) Talks Policy & Family Legacy

February 14, 2018

Congressman Joe Kennedy is a democrat who represents Massachusetts fourth district. His progressive policies and famous family name have thrust him into the spotlight after he gave the Democratic Party's official response to President Trump's State of the Union Address. Despite his opposition to the Commander in Chief, Rep. Kennedy believes Democrats who seek to lead the country need to be driven by what they are for rather than what they are against.

Congressman Kennedy believes there is bipartisan support for a sweeping infrastructure bill to fix America's roads and bridges, but worries how the price tag will impact the next generation of Americans. The plan put forth by the White House will cost $1.5 trillion.

As a 37-year-old congressman, Kennedy seeks to inspire millennial voters. Congressman Kennedy's message to young people: "Regardless of your political leanings, you've got to make your voice heard."


John F. Kennedy: You're 100 percent right there. This is something that I think Democrats or Republicans, everybody recognizes that we need to do, our country needs it. The question's going to be the details on it. So I think a lot of questions that the administration still needs to answer, one, $200 billion. Where is that money coming from? How are we going to get it? What's that actually going to look like? Where are we taking it from in order to get that 200 billion? Two, as laid out some of the details here and they still need to flush some of this out. It leads you to ask questions like in communities that I represent, Fall River, Taunton, Massachusetts, that are quite rural, that aren't quite necessarily going to be the ones that have the biggest return on investment that they've talked about. Where are they going to be left? In all likelihood, based on this plan, actually be left behind. And that's something that I think the administration needs to answer, is they're trying to say, "Hey we can work with public private partnerships." Which essentially could mean leveraging a lot of money from developers to privatize infrastructure which isn't the way we've typically looked at infrastructure in this country. And, yes, investing in rural America which nobody is going to disagree with. But for those categories that aren't quite rural and that don't quite meet those, the dreams of those developers, there's a lot of Americans that falls into that category. What they can do for them?

MALE_1: Of course, just two weeks ago or so, you gave the official Democratic response there to the state of the Union. So how would you characterize the current Democratic message right now in 2018? One question people come back to is, is it simply enough just to be the party of being Anti-Trump? What's the message right now?

John F. Kennedy: No you can't be. Look, I- I have some pretty strong and passionate disagreements with this administration. However, I think anybody that seeks to try to lead a country, you can't be defined by what you're against. You've got to put forth a positive vision about what we want to do with in terms of leading a nation. And so from my perspective, at the moment, House Democrats what we need to do is, yes, you stand strong on those areas where you think this administration is moving down the wrong direction. But you also stand up and fight for the values that- that brought us together not just as a party but as a country. And look, the idea that everybody in this nation should be able to expect a job or you can keep a roof over your head, and food on your plate, and your kid in a good school, safe retirement, and be safe and secure in your community back home. That's not- that's not a partisan idea at all. That's not a Democrat one or a Republican one. That's something that every American should demand and deserves. We've got to work to make sure that's true.

MALE_1: Now Congressman, of course, a lot of critics have been quick to point out, "Hey, Joe Kennedy's response was just one." Because a lot of your Democratic colleagues had their own, I won't quite say, rival messages. But some were airing at the same time. So how do you respond to critics who say, this is the Democratic caucus right now that's struggling to even unify behind one solid message.

John F. Kennedy: Look, we are- we strive to be I believe we are, we're a big tent party. And so I think there's a need, particularly now, to have different leaders out there that are speaking to different constituencies across our country to put that message out. And I think, look, we're still a year after an election that obviously didn't go quite as well as many of us had hoped. The party I think is actually starting to unify behind some of those principles and ideas and I think you'll see what happen over the course of the several months ahead and then on into the election in 2020. I- I'm not so worried about this different ideas and different messages.

MALE_1: Okay.

John F. Kennedy: If you want to be a big tent party, particularly given the process that we have to go through as we were bold, having different messages and messengers, is exactly what we need to do. Anointing anybody at the moment as the head or the leader of Democratic Party, that's not anybody's ability- it's the- nobody has that ability to bestow it. That has to be earned by going out there and taking your- your message of credibility to the voters. And we have got to go through that process.

MALE_1: So I'm curious, have you heard feedback specifically from your constituents? I've asked a lot of your Democratic colleagues this. You know there's this argument of do you lean more progressive as a party caucus? Do you move more to the center, more moderate voices. What are some of the feedback you've been hearing about the direction your constituents want to see the Democratic message move forward in 2018?

John F. Kennedy: Well, I think trying to categorize it one way as either more progressive or more centrist, that's, uh, I think you kind of miss the forest for the trees. I think what we have to focus on is not how far left or how far right you actually move a message but are we as elected officials, are we as a party, are we as a country, putting forth a message that resonates with- with the vast majority of Americans? And that means, yes, standing up on principles where you believe this administration is wrong. It means putting forth a positive message at the direction where we need to go. And it means not being afraid to say, if something that happens to be more conservative, fine. If something has to be more progressive, fine. No one else outside of these walls talks about things that way. And when I'm back home or you're running around a district, you- you don't fall into these traps about the kind of party labels that people are so [OVERLAPPING] quick to throw on you. That is- this is business but it's not how most folks go about their daily lives.

MALE_1: Now I ask you specifically. Is there an emphasis on millennial voters? People in their 20s and 30s. This is a core group of demographic. A lot of people would say, "Hey, perhaps for the most part in this country they lean somewhere left." Maybe they do, maybe they don't. How important is it to effectively capture that demographic and ensure that in the midterms of your congressman, they don't stay home and that they actually do get to the polls?

John F. Kennedy: It is- if the millennial generation votes 18 to 34 by definition, old enough to vote, they decide this election. Period. So whether they stay home, they decide it. Whether they go out and vote, they decide it. Whether they vote Democrat or Republican, they decide it. So my message really to them is, to every millennial out there, is regardless as to where whatever your political leanings are, you've got to make your voice heard. And I understand- I go around and I speak to a lot of college campuses. I represent a lot of college campuses. I understand why people, those predominantly students or young adults, they've got a lot on their plate. They're trying to balance a lot of pressures. They might not necessarily have seen how the federal government, how- how important some of these policies are. Our ability to address some of these concerns or not address them, whether that's student loans, whether that's a debt and deficit, whether it's climate change, that is going- the- those challenges are going to fall on their shoulders. And so having those voices guide this debate now is so unbelievably important. Waiting for a politician to try to come around and court you-

MALE_1: Right.

John F. Kennedy: That's not the way any of this should go. Go out there and demand their voice. Go out there and organize. Activate and demand that you get heard. And people will, we have to.

MALE_1: Of course, Congressman, I have to say, objectively you come from one of the greatest American legacy last names in the history of American politics. So does that inform your politics or your decision making, even your voting now here in 2018, knowing that the strong family legacy you come from?

John F. Kennedy: The- I'm- there's stuff up on wall over here from my dad with me on swearing in day and a couple of stuff from- from actually from some of my relatives. I am very proud of the contributions they've made to our country. I like to think of their legacy predominately in two ways. One, it's a commitment to public service. Whatever that is. Whether it's through elective office, military service, nonprofits, whatever floats your boat. But a- a- a commitment to give back and a commitment to actually build something larger than any one individual. Two, its about people. And politics, for all of the- the technicalities and all of those labels that are thrown on it, its- it's about knock on the door of a neighbor, shaking their hand, look in their eye, and ask them what's on their mind and trying to address their concerns. And if we go about doing that, we as a country are going to be fine. The concern that I have at the moment is we're not doing that. Rather than going out and knocking on my neighbor's door, we're vilifying that person. Rather than being willing to hear somebody out who disagrees with you, the initial response is to try to tell them why they're wrong rather than actually hearing why they might feel that way. And that's hokey and that's cheesy. It's true. But the vast majority of Americans I do believe are unified around the fact that they might come from different places philosophically. Everybody wants a better future for their kids. And we can unite around some set of common principles that I think helps that happen. And the sooner we're able to do that, the better.

MALE_1: Congressman Joe Kennedy, thank you very much for taking the time. Really a pleasure to have you on the show today. Join us in the Hot with David there. We thank you very much.

John F. Kennedy: Appreciate it. Thank you.

MALE_1: Of course. Alright guys, we'll toss it back to you in-