Kennedy says Markey vote shows need for change

Congressman goes after incumbent senator’s 2013 vote

JOE KENNEDY  is fond of saying there is more to being a US senator than filing bills and taking votes, but during a televised debate with Ed Markey Sunday night he appeared to score political points by zeroing in on a vote the incumbent senator took as a congressman in 2013.

Markey voted for a bill that retained the requirement that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency maintain at least 34,000 detention beds. Kennedy voted against that bill and also backed an amendment that would have eliminated the requirement. Last week several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus criticized Markey for his vote seven years ago.

Rather than defend or explain the vote, Markey repeatedly described it as a nonissue because Kennedy himself voted for similar language contained in a much broader spending bill. “Give me a break, congressman, you did the same thing,” Markey said to Kennedy.

Kennedy has had difficulty so far in the Democratic primary campaign explaining his decision to run against a progressive Democrat whom he agrees with on most issues. He repeated several times Sunday night his standard rationale – that being a senator is more than filing bills and taking votes, that’s it’s also about campaigning and raising money for Democratic House and Senate candidates to regain control of Congress. Kennedy in his political ads also plays up his younger age, describing himself as “a new generation of leadership.”

But Kennedy appears to be shifting gears a bit as the race continues to tighten. He sought to highlight differences between himself and Markey Sunday night by responding to two questions posed in Spanish and English by answering them in Spanish and English. Markey answered only in English.

Kennedy also suggested Markey lives in Washington and is out of touch with the concerns of voters in Massachusetts. Markey said his campaign would address the so-called absenteeism issue at a future date, but insisted he is not out of touch, citing as evidence the support of most local and state elected officials. He noted 19 of the state lawmakers in Kennedy’s congressional district support him and only four support Kennedy.

Kennedy kept returning to the obscure immigration detention bed issue during the debate. “Folks, if there was ever an example of why we need change in Washington, it is this exchange you’ve just heard,” he said at one point.

Moderator and NBC10 anchor Latoyia Edwards decided to dive into the issue more broadly, giving both candidates the time to make their case. Kennedy slammed Markey for joining with conservative Democrats and Republicans in voting against the amendment. “He stood with Republicans against the Obama administration,” Kennedy said of Markey.

Markey again pointed out that Kennedy voted for the same language when it was included in a broader spending bill, suggesting his position and Kennedy’s were the same. “Ultimately, it’s a nonissue,” he said.

Kennedy countered that voting against the language as an amendment was very different than voting for it in a broader spending bill. He noted all Democrats voted for the broader spending bill and President Obama signed it into law.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Markey tried to shift the debate by criticizing Kennedy for supporting the PROMESA Act in 2016, which Markey said has been devastating for Puerto Rico. Kennedy acknowledged the law had shortcomings, but said he voted for it because a House leader had told him it was the only way to deliver aid to the US territory. He also said he has pushed amendments to address problems with the law.

Markey also went after Kennedy for joining a fraternity at Stanford University with a racist reputation and voting for various bills that he now opposes. Kennedy in each case suggested he had either made mistakes or had changed his mind, but Markey suggested the policy shifts were signs of a politician without a moral core.

“Is that conviction or political convenience?” he asked.