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Congressional Corner With Joe Kennedy

Congressman Joe Kennedy III

Massachusetts Democrats have a big decision to make in September.

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with Representative Joe Kennedy of the fourth district, who is running for Senate.

This conversation was recorded on May 27.

Alan Chartock: Hi. This is Alan Chartock. We’re in the Congressional Corner with Joe Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts’ fourth congressional district, in office since 2013. Now running against Senator Ed Markey in this year's Democratic primary. So, Joe Kennedy, why are you doing it?

Representative Joe Kennedy: Because we need stronger leadership in the USA. And look, I respect Senator Markey’s service. But I think this moment has proved that we need better judgment, a stronger presence and a much clearer vision as to the challenges we get in front of this country. And a lot of the challenges we're facing today, yes, it's brought on by the virus, but this virus is not just causing all of them. It is exacerbating some of the policy failures we've seen coming out of Washington for a long, long time. And trying to get through this recovery is, I don't believe we are going to get through with the same people with the same mindset and the same leadership that we've had over the course of the past 50 years. It’s a fight of a generation and we need something new in order to deliver on it.

Congressman, there are those people who say, well, you're a Kennedy. Kennedys can't lose in Massachusetts. You're taking advantage of your name. Is that true?

No, look, I one, I don't think I'm going to lose I sure hope we don't we're. We're out there every darn day that we can, trying to let people know why I'm in this race. Why I think this is so urgent and important, and important enough to get into a Democratic primary and obviously, make some folks a bit uncomfortable by it. But, man, if you weren't uncomfortable by what we're seeing out there across our country today, then I don't think you're paying attention. And remember before COVID hit before this virus hit we still had a society where 500,000 people are going homeless every single night. Nearly 40 million were going hungry. Where a minimum wage worker working full time could not afford a two bedroom apartment in any single neighborhood in our country. Half of all the folks suffering from mental illness couldn't get access to the care that they need. And what we've seen from this virus is exacerbating these fractures and fissures in our society. But it's the idea that somehow going back to normal is good enough. That normal was unbelievably broken for so many folks across our nation. And the fact that essential workers couldn't earn a living wage. And so if it's worth making folks a bit uncomfortable to say, hey, normal wasn't good enough. The old ways we're doing things clearly weren't working for far too many millions of people across our nation. And I think we can do better. I believe in our state, I believe in our country. And I know we can be better than this. But I don't think you're going to get better by doing the same stuff year after year after year.

If you were in the senate right now, what would you be doing about the coronavirus response?

So, a number of things. One, I'm speaking obviously, from well done in Washington, DC. And we're continuing to work on a number of policies and proposals here to try to make sure not only do we address this moment that we're in, but we do actually rebuild our country to be stronger, more resilient, and in better position to make sure we never go through this again. And so I look at this in a couple of ways. One, it's trying to ensure that people in this moment have access to basic needs, and they still don't, right, whether that's basic health care needs. We still don't have adequate testing that we need across the country. There's still major questions about how folks are going to be able to go back to work. I have a two year old and a four year old. Trying to go to work if you don't have childcare is going to be a massive problem and trying to figure out how you provide childcare is a massive problem. And so we got to work through these challenges. And then you got to make sure that again, we were able to address these inequities that we are seeing perpetuate across our country, from lack of access to health care to healthcare coverage, to the ability to provide for family and finally, Alan, it's about recognizing that that country that I believe in, that our agenda has been blocked for years because of structural obstacles codified by Mitch McConnell, and that you are not going to deliver on that change unless you go out there and take on those challenges like ending the filibuster, like flipping the House and working to flip the Senate, like supporting other strong candidates around the nation. That's the responsibility of our elected officials, not just to file bills, but to do everything you can to make sure that they become law.

So Joe Kennedy, let me ask you this. The Heroes Act latest coronavirus relief bill that you guys passed is dead on arrival in the Senate, according to Mitch McConnell, the guy you just referenced. Is it true that the Democrats overreached with this bill as he says?

The idea that Mitch McConnell is saying it’s Congress overreach when we have over 1.5 million people who are sick, we have nearly 100,000 lives that have been lost in three months, that we have lost 40 million jobs in our country, and the fact that Democrats have said, hey, you know what, in order to respond, we have to be big, and we have to be bold, and we have to make sure that people get access to funding they need to keep a roof over their head, that we need to scale up health care sector across our nation and scale up our testing ability that we get to support states and municipalities so that they can provide. I was in in Westfield and in Greenfield and in Springfield and Holyoke yesterday. And you know what i heard from the folks of the Boys and Girls Club? They’re wondering how they're going to be able to provide services for kids, enrichment opportunities, and some semblance of summer camps some semblance of normalcy for underprivileged children. And Mitch McConnell says we're sorry, that's an overreach. I'd encourage him to come out to Westfield and Greenfield. Come out to Holyoke. Come visit the Soldiers’ Home and talk about the 90 folks that have passed away, the heroes whose hand I shook when I was there around Veterans Day. Heroes who survived Normandy to fall to this virus and say, I'm sorry, we overreached. I can't imagine a more offensive statement by an elected official in our country today.

Speaking about statements, Joe Kennedy, I watched the presumptive nominee Joe Biden call the president of the United States a fool for disdaining wearing a mask, do you agree?

Yes. And I, whenever I wear a mask, it's not only a way to protect me and my family; it’s a way to protect everybody else. And the idea that somehow the president of the United States, easily the most high profile individual in the world, would at the same time he is claiming to lead the government response to the most powerful nation on the planet that he is disregarding the advice of every single health care professional and public health professional in our nation. The same time he tries to stand up adequate response from the CDC and NIH, and our health care agencies, that he's not listening to the very folks whose advice you want other people to follow, it's dangerous, it's reckless, and we deserve better.

And very quickly, let me ask you this. You know, I happen to be a Biden fan, but that doesn't matter. But I felt relieved because a lot of people have been saying Biden hasn't got the guts. He won't stand up to Trump. Did you think that the idea that he would use a word like that was helpful to his image?

I think that folks who don't think that Vice President Biden will stand up to Donald Trump don't know Vice President Biden. I have the honor of knowing the Vice President for a long time now and I think he is an extremely decent man who cares an awful lot about the wellbeing of our country. And that concern that he has stretches across folks of different demographics, different ages, different political parties. And I think he views as I do, the current president to be a threat to the type of country we believe in and the type of country I think our type of government I think our people deserve. And I expect the vice president to fight with everything. He's got, over the course of the month ahead, to make sure that we are able to have a country we all believe in.

Congressman Joe Kennedy is a democrat from Massachusetts fourth congressional district. He's been in office since 2013. He's running against Senator Ed Markey in this year's Democratic primary. Joe Kennedy. Thanks for being with us. When we come back the next time I got a lot more for you.

I look forward to it. Any time, my friend. Thank you.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m..