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Congressional Corner With Joe Kennedy

Congressman Joe Kennedy III

We’re about to find out how much magic the Kennedy name still holds in Massachusetts politics.

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

This conversation was recorded on May 27.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Congressman Joe Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts’ fourth congressional district. He's been in office since 2013. Running against Senator Ed Markey in this year's Democratic primary. Let me start with this. A lot of people are very curious. They said, well, I know he's a Kennedy, but what's his relationship? You're a grandson. Right?

Representative Joe Kennedy: I am a grandson. So Robert Kennedy was my grandfather. And Senator Ted Kennedy was my grandfather's brother. So my great uncle, President Kennedy, obviously another great uncle. My dad is Joe Kennedy, who is a member of congress from Boston. And my mom, Sheila who was an urban planner and a teacher, and everybody still around Massachusetts. I got a twin brother and I got two little kids and he's got three so we got a bunch of little ones running around wreaking havoc.

Did you ever meet your grandfather?

No, sir. He passed away well, before I was born,

Yeah. Right. So is there a special responsibility for being a Kennedy in this country?

I don't think there's a special responsibility. I think there's an acknowledgement, that one that I come from a family that's been extremely fortunate. And for those families that are blessed with, with having those resources, I think it gives you an, I think an opportunity and a responsibility to try to make sure that you fight to make sure that every person has an opportunity to succeed. And that's the story of our country. That's the ideal that we hold on. And that's the one I think every American deserves, every person who deserves is what brought my family to this country, both sides of my mother's family, a long, long time ago, seeking religious freedom and my father's family fleeing the Irish potato famine in the 1800s. And it was not, when they arrived here, it was not easygoing. But they were able to bind together and overcome some really significant hardships and obviously turned into incredible success. But that's the special place that this country can be. And I think what my family's tried to do, and a part that I'm very proud of is acknowledge the blessings that we have and try to use that platform and those resources to try to ensure that those blessings extend to as many others as we possibly can.

Is your twin brother, I'm a twin, is your twin brother an identical twin?

Fraternal, fraternal, and as he likes to say, thank God for that. So, you know.

Does he look like you?

I think, you know, you can tell that we're brothers. He's a little bit taller, he's got brown hair, he's in dire need of a haircut like almost everybody at this point. So you know, but we're pretty close. We talk all the time, which is great.

Who cuts your hair?

My wife did in the middle of this, in the middle of the pandemic, so that was interesting to say the least. But she did a great job. Thank God. And as we start to open up, we’ll be getting back to a haircut real soon.

What should the government be doing right now to keep the country from falling into a new depression?

We need to do an awful lot more than we are doing. And so one that is making sure that every family has the ability to meet their economic needs at this moment. I proposed a direct cash payment system months ago to ensure that people had the financial ability to pay their rent and their mortgage and their credit card bill and make sure they could stay afloat. And so it's triaging this, this moment right now and providing access to those resources. One of the early supporters, a colleague and the chair of the Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, her plan to call to allow for the paycheck guarantee acts, to allow for the federal government to actually pay people's paychecks directly. And other countries have a similar system that has kept unemployment rates far lower than we're seeing here in the United States. So those are two big places to start. Next, we need to rebuild for something better. And that's why I think we need to be investing in measures to rebuild out of this crisis. So drastically expanding jobs, like the number of contact traces we're going to need, professions like decontamination and cleaning and a whole wide variety of systems we're going to need to put in place to ensure that people can start to go back to work in a safe and responsible way and have confidence that they can go back to work and start to reenter society without getting sick. And then building for the long term, and really investing in a job corps that is going to create a system that is far more equitable, and putting people to work in everything from you know, environmental justice jobs to investing in our infrastructure programs and rebuilding America, access to broadband. Summer jobs and summer placement for youth. There's an awful lot that is needed and necessary to ensure that we start to reclaim some of those 40 million jobs that were lost and provide people a pathway forward. And so those two dockets, the immediate triage and the long term investment in our country, is what we need to do to ensure we do not go back to a failed normal that has made the impact of this crisis so much worse.

So that leads to a question we could go backwards and ask this. Why were we so unready for this pandemic?

There's a lot to that. So one was actions by this administration that they took and did not take that made the impact of this virus worse. So everything from the president not listening to his advisors, to ways in which he had gutted our global health response and international cooperation, to ways in which they fail the scaling up testing and the lack of clear and consistent communication with the American public. So that's one big piece to it without question that that's when it hits. The other part though, is the fact that this is a ramification of choices that Washington has made and did not make that we've seen over the course of the past decades. And so while it is true that this virus could infect anybody young or old, rich or poor, Democrat, Republican, anybody else, what we have seen is that the impact of this virus is wreaking havoc on lower income communities, on immigrant communities, on communities that live in multi-generational households, on folks that are working jobs with less paid time off or paid sick leave. There's a reason why when you look at infection rates, we see largest infection rates in Chelsea and in Lawrence and in Brockton. We see some of the counties with the highest death rates in the state in Hampton County. You know, what the virus has done is exacerbate these structural inequities that we have seen and that Washington's failure to address have made worse and That's why I don't think you can say that after all this time we're going to by going back to normal, you're gonna solve these problems. Normal is what made this crisis so much worse.

Congressman Joe Kennedy is running for the United States Senate against Ed Markey in a primary. When we come back, we're going to ask him about that race a little bit more. In the meantime, Joe Kennedy, we want to thank you for spending this time and I wish you good luck.

Hey, thank you, my friend.

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..
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