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Congressional Corner With Joe Kennedy

Congressman Joe Kennedy III

Once again, a Kennedy is on the ballot in the Bay State.

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock wraps up his interview with Democratic Representative and U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Kennedy of the fourth district.

This interview was recorded August 17.

Alan Chartock: Congressman Joe Kennedy is a Democrat from Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District in office since 2013, running against Senator Ed Markey in this year's Democratic primary. I guess I'm a little ignorant - but I want to ask you this question: the fourth district was that where John F. Kennedy held, fourth?

Congressman Joe Kennedy: No, no, this was my immediate predecessor. There was Barney Frank. And obviously, the districts have been redrawn quite a bit since President Kennedy was a member of Congress. But he represented essentially the city of Boston in parts of my father's old district in what is now Congresswoman Presley's current district.

If you were in the Senate right now, what would you be doing about the coronavirus? I mean, and it's the response to that there's still no Senate bill after the Heroes Act was passed by the House in May.

And so, I'd be focusing on the communities that are most in need and be focusing on increasing access to testing and contract tracing, trying to understand why we still have challenges with our supply chain with regards to the manufacturing of reagents needed to make those tests. And with regards to PPE, because some of our healthcare facilities around the state are still running low on supplies, and be focused on those communities where if we do not extinguish this virus, it will continue to perpetuate and to grab hold and to continue to spread and infect others. We focus on our nursing homes, because that has been a site not only of enormous spread, but obviously a vulnerable population. And I would be ensuring that we are increasing our advocacy around the country because what we have seen in this moment that Republicans are not actually focused on solving this problem. They have had ample opportunity to come up with their own proposal and engage with us in a bipartisan way to actually pass a relief bill that so many millions of people across our country are begging for, and they want. But there's a big difference between me and Senator Markey. I've gone around the country to help support other challengers, other candidates we were able to flip the House of Representatives that enabled us not only to hold this president accountable for impeachment, but past progressive legislation and a far more progressive COVID response bill. In the CARES Act that helps set the standard for economic relief and now also the Heroes Act. I believe a US senator and a senator from Massachusetts has an enormous opportunity and responsibility to help influence those prospects. Senator Markey doesn't agree, because he didn't do any of that back in 2018. When we needed him most. He literally went nowhere. When Republicans had control the House and Senate presidency, campaigned for no one, when we needed to flip the Senate. And I don't think we can afford again, that type of absenteeism, particularly when the consequences are as great as they are at this moment.

So let me ask you something, Joe Kennedy, that has been perplexing me for quite a while now - what is it, a third of this country or more, believes that President Trump has the answers and they voted for him and they may well vote for him again? With everything that's come out, can you understand what's going on?

I think what you're seeing is a frustration with the fact that government's not delivering for the people, that there's a connective thread in my eyes through the election of Donald Trump, to the COVID-19 pandemic to this moment of racial justice. It’s that government's not delivering for its people. That was the primal scream that got Donald Trump elected in its first place, that things weren't going well for an awful lot of people as I think folks in Washington saw. We've seen a pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the United States, almost unlike any other, well certainly unlike any other developed nation in the world. And we've seen, even legislative response that hasn't been able to address some of the needs of the most vulnerable and those most in need. And obviously, when it comes to racial justice, we are still addressing some of the original wounds of our country going back hundreds of years. And so yeah, I think you need a government that's more connected, that's willing to listen, that's willing to roll up their sleeves and dive on into those challenges. That's why I got in this race, because I think a United States senator can do something about it. But I think the United States Senator needs to, he or she needs to do something about it. But I don't think you can do that, I don't think you're going to solve those problems from some back room in Washington DC. If we could, it would have been done by now. You’re solving by being here, by listening to people, by lifting up those voices and fighting for them every day. And that's the type of leadership I'll bring to the Senate and Senator Markey, that has not been his focus.

Joe Kennedy, minority communities in poor communities have been more affected by the virus. So how do we get people who have been living paycheck to paycheck back on their feet?

This has been a big priority for me, and it's one of the reasons why I rolled out a Jobs and Justice initiative, a massive federal hiring program and jobs program to put people back to work to address the immediate triage and crisis of COVID-19 by scaling up programs like contact tracing and testing, additional economic relief for families, support for small businesses, and not just direct cash payments support, like paying people's paychecks and paying for rent, but things like building a website so you can access online commerce, increased access to takeout orders and delivery, and then addressing the long term structural inequities that made us so vulnerable to COVID in the first place, things like overhauling our infrastructure systems, things like building up an entire industry of offshore wind in southeastern New England that could give birth to literally 10s of thousands of new jobs. Things like addressing supply chain shortages and supply chain inefficiency that left has left us so vulnerable to PPE shortages. Those are all critical parts that have made us far more vulnerable to this crisis. And that's what we need to do with a specific focus on those underserved communities and on racial inequity. Because I've met with over 100 different businesses over the course of the past several weeks, many of whom said that they did not get received PPP, the big federal program. Did not apply for it, did not know about it, were denied, and are still waiting. And that's a big problem, because that was supposed to be the big federal program to help these businesses. And if they didn't get it, we got a problem.

Now, you've been talking about new industries, the need for new industry. And what about Western Massachusetts? I live in Great Barrington. What would you like to see out here? What is the jobs plan for Western Mass?

So jobs plan for Western Massachusetts begins with original equity with regards to investment. It means looking at transportation infrastructure, and beginning obviously with East West rail, not just Worcester-Springfield, but Springfield-Pittsfield and connections to Boston. It means looking at healthcare equity and addressing the structural inequities we see where healthcare reimbursement rates are lower in western Massachusetts than they are in eastern Massachusetts, which means you have structurally an under investment in healthcare in western Massachusetts. It means building up regional economic development strategies, because we have enormous opportunities throughout the Berkshires, but Berkshire County is different than Hamden County. It's got different challenges, different opportunities. But you need you need to have officials, particularly senators that are present and available to actually hear them and fight for those provisions in the United States Senate. And I don't think you're going to know what those are, I don’t see how you're going to do that if you're not here, you're not out in western Massachusetts. You're not listening to people across Berkshire County or Franklin County. And I will be. I have over the course of this campaign and it is my pledge that I'll be back.

Here's a question. I hope it's not embarrassing, but have you ever been to Tanglewood?

You know, I don't think I have ever been to Tanglewood.

Well let me invite you to come. It's a great place.

I would love to. Believe it or not, it's been a busy summer and Tanglewood, it hasn't been a year to go to Tanglewood obviously. So well, next year.

I didn't mean this year. But you know, it is a wonderful place. And we're all so very proud of it. And we are. President Obama speaking at John Lewis’s funeral suggested it may be time to do away with the Senate filibuster. What's your opinion on that question?

Yes, I've been in favor of abolishing the filibuster for over a year now. I was the first candidate in this race to call for ending the filibuster. And it has been the biggest success of the filibuster has been its delay and prevention of bring progressive change. It needs to go.

And it has been used right. We both know sometimes in a positive way. In other words, if they're bringing up a dog of a bill, somebody says we're gonna filibuster, it gets laid aside. Isn't there something to that?

The filibuster really is the only most useful, it’s only applicable when one party has control of the House, the Senate, the presidency, which obviously Republicans had recently and Democrats had in the first two years of the Obama administration. But understand that it only applies essentially for bills that are budgetary in nature, economic in nature. They are still able to pass through reconciliation. So it's the way that the Trump administration passed their tax cuts, the way that they tried to repeal healthcare and take healthcare away from 30 million people. That's a reconciliation. So what it's really effective at doing is blocking social change. Things like gun violence legislation, like immigration reform, like climate policy. That's what gets blocked. And I don't think at this point, we can afford more delays on critical pieces of policy that so many across our country are yearning for. And I got time for one more before I gotta jump, guys.

And this will be real fast. Senator Markey says you took two years to support Medicare for all. What is your vision for healthcare, and I know you only got a couple of seconds, so give us the collapsed version.

I'm a supporter of Medicare for all. Senator Markey, this is a critique he likes to level which is not wholly accurate. Senator Markey, it took the senator over a decade, over a dozen years actually to sign on to Medicare for all. I signed on a Medicare for all after demanding changes to the bill that was in the House, which is a different version than the bill in the Senate that put up obstacles to long term care, to women's access to reproductive rights and abortion. And would have resulted in the closure of hospitals around the around the state. I spoke with the drafter, the new version of the bill, Pramila Jayapal, worked with her on that bill and was able to get those changes in and then I signed on. I believe in a health care system where everybody gets access to the health care that they need when they need it, period. That's a promise this country should be able to guarantee its people. I'll fight for that promise every single day.

Congressman, we very much respect what you've done. And we appreciate your being on the air with us and letting everybody hear what your thoughts are. So thanks again. And we certainly hope that in the future, you'll come on back with us.

I look forward to it guys. Thanks so much.

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.