Joseph P. Kennedy III responds to State of the Union for Democrats

Jan 31, 2018
  • By Katharine Q. Sleeye
  • The New York Times
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
In this July 26, 2017, file photo, Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., smiles on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kennedy, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, will give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech.

 Without uttering the president’s name, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III chastised the Trump administration Tuesday night for what he said was its abandonment of the fundamental values for which the nation stands. 

“Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count,” Kennedy said as he delivered the official Democratic Party response to Trump’s State of the Union address. 

Noting that “hatred and supremacy” are “proudly marching in our streets,” Russia is “knee-deep in our democracy,” and the Justice Department is “rolling back civil rights by the day,” Kennedy said that the administration “isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.” 

And, switching to Spanish, he spoke directly to the millions of young, unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers. “You are a part of our story,” he said. “We will fight for you. We will not walk away.” 

A scion of one of America’s foremost political dynasties — his grandfather was Robert F. Kennedy and his great-uncles were President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — Joseph Kennedy, 37, is a third-term congressman representing a large swath of southeastern Massachusetts. 

He spoke in his shirt sleeves Tuesday night in front of a cheering audience at the Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, Massachusetts. Fall River was built by immigrants and was once the leading textile center in the United States, nicknamed Spindle City. But its prosperity ebbed after World War I and it never fully recovered. 

Trump captured only a third of the vote in Fall River in 2016, but he won several neighboring towns. The region is home to the sort of working-class voters the Democrats need in their efforts to regain control of Congress in the midterm elections this year. And it served as a fitting backdrop Tuesday night for the Democratic view that Trump has presided over an economy that benefits the nation’s wealthy elite but has left the working class behind. 

“Donald Trump’s presidency has been a series of broken promises to the middle class and workers, a fact which tonight’s address did not change,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., put it this way: “America isn’t stronger when Donald Trump tries to rip health care away from millions of Americans. Our future isn’t stronger when he gives away gigantic tax breaks to billionaires and giant corporations so there’s no money for education, infrastructure and the tools we need to succeed.” 

Trump’s economic policy is not “a bridge to the future, it’s a tunnel back to the Gilded Age,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz. “The president’s ‘plan’ is to use infrastructure to signal his contempt for environmental laws, not to create jobs or get anything done.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who delivered his own response to the speech, declared: “The American people do not want a president who is compulsively dishonest, who is a bully, who actively represents the interests of the billionaire class, who is anti-science, and who is trying to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our nation of origin, our religion, our gender, or our sexual orientation.” 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said that Kennedy was chosen to deliver the official Democratic response because he represented a sharp contrast with Trump. Despite his own wealth — Kennedy has an estimated net worth of more than $18 million — he has emerged as an advocate of progressive social policy and a voice for the underclass. 

While Kennedy did not speak personally of Trump, he concluded his speech by suggesting that the nation’s spirit would eventually triumph over Trump. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, have faith,” he said. “The state of our union is hopeful, resilient, enduring.”