Rep. Joe Kennedy III discusses career, 2020 election

Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (left) talks to students about growing up around politics. (Shaylee Navarro/Daily Trojan)

Rep. Joe Kennedy III  gave students and spectators a glimpse into the emerging political world and what they can do in preparation for the upcoming 2020 presidential elections in an event hosted at Wallis Annenberg Hall Tuesday.

Nearly 200 students, faculty and staff filled the forum as the Massachusetts congressman arrived at the podium.  The conversation, moderated by Center for Political Future Director Bob Shrum, was hosted in collaboration with the Political Student Assembly, Undergraduate Student Government, the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and the Dornsife Center for Political Future.

Kennedy discussed his support of equal rights for all communities and how the idea of equality in America has typically and historically benefitted wealthy, white and Protestant men.

“So many in our country have fought, and struggled and bled, and some even died to try to make that definition more representative of the people that actually called this nation home,” Kennedy said. “The fact is that even today, 200 and some odd years later that there are still segments of our society, they do not just do it just the same level of federal protection that I do, as a straight white guy.”

Shrum shifted the topic to the debate on the GOP oversight regarding the  Trump-Russia investigation. Kennedy shared his personal opinions on the case, but said the results of the Robert Mueller investigation, which revealed multiple accounts of collusion in the administration, are more important.  

“I think it was a huge abdication of [the House of Representatives] responsibility … and so, we’re going to step in,” Kennedy said. “The one thing that I know is that Robert Mueller knows more about this than I do. And I think personally that is extremely important to let Mr. Mueller finish that process, to present that information to the attorney general.”

Kennedy also analyzed how the 2016 victory for President Trump has shaped modern politics.

“I think, essentially what Donald Trump has done has been extremely good at creating a reality for our country, where those that ‘have’ are doing extremely well and those that ‘don’t’ are being pitted against each other,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy believes that, to win in future elections, Democrats need to appeal to the general population by being clearer with their policies and attacking the Republicans’ weak points.

“The question I think Democrats have to be able to articulate clearly and simply is, ‘Why would you prefer a system forced by the President of the United States, where those at the top get everything and those that are struggling and striving are left to fight over the scraps?” he said.

According to Kennedy, previous presidential candidates have had trouble empathizing with their voters and have disregarded specific groups of voters by ignoring their problems. He said Sen. Elizabeth Warren has worked to counter this by campaigning in less represented states.

“It is easy to project and to dehumanize the other,” Kennedy said. “Elizabeth Warren spent the last couple of days in Mississippi and Alabama, going places that are not exactly on the traditional tour for Democratic candidates for the presidency, but to lean into this and to try to say those voices count.”

After the conversation, one student asked about how voters can stay unified come the 2020 presidential election. Kennedy said voters need to support candidates who everyone can stand behind.

“What you need to do is have folks that win those nominations with the confidence and the support of the American public,” Kennedy said. “That’s what the system demands, and that’s what we deserve.”

Junior Briana Miles, director of the Political Student Assembly, helped organize the speaking event. Miles said the organization wanted to host someone from the Democratic Party to discuss the 2020 presidential primary, as 14 candidates have announced their candidacies so far.

“It’s been a very interesting political year, and we wanted to try to get somebody that was in office to get some perspective on what’s happening right now, kind of how the processes are going and what issues they find important to them,” Miles said. “The Democratic primary is very big right now, so we wanted to get a democratic perspective on things are going on.”