The newest generation of the Kennedy political dynasty will be introduced to a national audience Tuesday night as he delivers the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a 37-year-old Massachusetts congressman and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, says Democrats should focus on the economic worries of working-class voters who bolted the party in the 2016 elections.
To drive home the message, Kennedy will deliver his speech at a vocational high school in Fall River, Massachusetts, a gritty former textile hub 55 miles (89 kilometers) south of Boston.
“From health care to economic justice to civil rights, the Democratic agenda stands in powerful contrast to President Trump’s broken promises to American families,” Kennedy said in a statement, adding that his speech will be “guided by a simple belief that equality and economic dignity should be afforded to every American.”
Kennedy, the red-haired son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, D-Mass., was elected to the House in 2012, returning the family to Congress two years after the retirement of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who is the son of Joe Kennedy III’s great-uncle Ted.
Besides his famous last name, Joe Kennedy III also is among a wave of younger Democrats in a caucus whose three top leaders are all in their 70s.
A former Peace Corps volunteer, Kennedy was an assistant district attorney in two Massachusetts districts before being elected to Congress. He has focused on economic and social justice in Congress and has advocated on behalf of vocational schools and community colleges and championed issues such as transgender rights and marriage equality.
To illustrate that message, Kennedy has invited Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender infantry solider, to represent him at the State of the Union. King, an 18-year Army veteran, has twice been deployed to Afghanistan and has been awarded the Bronze Star.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Kennedy “a relentless fighter for working Americans” and said he “profoundly understands the challenges facing hard-working men and women across the country.”
Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the campaign arm of House Republicans, could not conceal his glee as he welcomed the latest Kennedy as the voice of Democrats.
“Democrats using the multi-millionaire scion of a political dynasty as the face of their party shows they’ve learned absolutely nothing,” Gorman said in an email, adding that the only way to give the GOP an easier target would be for Kennedy to make the speech “live from the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis,” Massachusetts.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley said Kennedy will focus on education and the importance of preparing future generations for jobs while also pointing out “how Republicans fall short, and certainly the president.”
Kennedy “will be talking to the forgotten men and women — the people the president says he is speaking to but since has shown he has little or no regard for,” said Crowley, D-N.Y.
The speech is an opportunity for the three-term lawmaker to “step out a bit and make his own mark” in national politics, said Crowley, who recommended Kennedy for the role.
“He’s young, talented and smart. He’s got a great last name, but on his own, he’s a wonderful man and that will come through as well,” Crowley said. “The sky’s the limit for him, frankly.”
Before this speech, Kennedy’s best-known moment was a 2017 speech criticizing House Speaker Paul Ryan for defending the GOP effort to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law as “an act of mercy.”
Kennedy called the GOP effort “an act of malice” in a late-night speech that was viewed millions of times on social media.
Kennedy’s speech will be followed by a Spanish-language response delivered by Elizabeth Guzman, one of the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.