Kennedy’s rationale for run remains fuzzy
Promises to upend DC power structure in debate with Markey
IN THEIR FIRST DEBATE, Rep. Joe Kennedy III tried to provide a rationale for his challenge to incumbent Sen. Ed Markey by suggesting his youth and energy could help lead a nationwide effort to restore Democrats to power in Washington.
Kennedy, who has been criticized for challenging a liberal Democrat in Massachusetts at a time when many believe his focus should be on removing President Trump and flipping Republican seats in other states, appeared to suggest he could do both at once.
“This is not a swing state and this is not a swing seat,” Kennedy acknowledged. But he said as senator he would provide a constant presence in Massachusetts, champion the causes of those victimized by President Trump, and restore Democrats to power so they as a group could pursue issues the Bay State cares about.
“This isn’t about whether or not Sen. Markey has made an important contribution. Of course he has,” Kennedy said. “This is not about filing the right bill and voting the right way. We have to do everything we can to restore power to a Democratic Party across the entire country, flip the House, flip the Senate, flip the presidency, and restore the court, and that is the type of leadership that I can bring to the seat.”
Markey insisted he has done more than file bills and vote on them over his 40 years in Congress. He said he has delivered laws, including a ban on Chinese assault weapons in 1994, fuel economy standards in 2007, appliance energy standards in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, $25 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to research gun violence in 2019, and appropriations to fund research on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
“On the big issues of today, the challenges of today, I’ve not only been leading but I’ve been delivering with legislation which passes, which protects the people of Massachusetts and the country,” Markey said.
Kennedy said there had been no meaningful gun violence legislation in decades and the last transformative environmental legislation to pass was the Clean Air Act in the 1960s. Markey said his gun violence research legislation was the last major piece of legislation dealing with guns and the last major environmental measure was his 2007 law doubling fuel economy standards.
On most issues – immigration, Trump, rent control, Medicare for all, and the Green New Deal – the candidates differed only marginally. Their talking styles, however, were different. The 73-year-old Markey recounted stories from his childhood and lessons learned from his working class parents. Kennedy, meanwhile, dropped a reference to his uncle, the former senator Edward M. Kennedy, and made clear he has youth on his side, mentioning he is 39 with two young children.
Kennedy seemed to score some debating points with his push for a People’s Pledge, which would be a voluntary agreement by the two campaigns not to allow dark money from super PACs to play a role in the race. Markey supported the People’s Pledge the last time he ran for office, but this time is calling for an exemption from the ban for progressive groups with positive messages. “We should not silence those progressive groups,” Markey said.
“Dark money is dark money,” Kennedy warned, questioning who would arbitrate whether a message was positive or not.
Markey responded that the media could decide, but Kennedy doubted journalists could assume that role and, even if they could, their assessment would only be after the fact.
Markey said he regretted his vote on Iraq, saying the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction inside the country. He said he voted present on the Syrian measure because he hadn’t yet obtained all the facts on the Obama administration proposal. He said he came out against the bill once he had all the facts, and that information served as a “disinfectant,” prompting the Obama administration to withdraw the proposal.Kennedy said a present vote on a matter of war is not a principled stand. “A present vote is not a disinfectant,” he said.
The two politicians debated on a live telecast by WGBH that was moderated by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.