WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III says it would be easy to dismiss the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency as “chaos” marked by partisanship and politics.
But Kennedy says Trump has caused serious problems for the American people, including through proposals that target Muslims, transgender people and others.
Kennedy, who is delivering the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday, said in excerpts released early that the Trump administration “isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.”
In an apparent reference to Trump, Kennedy says “bullies may land a punch” and leave a mark but have “never managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”
The 37-year-old Kennedy, a three-term congressman and grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, has argued that Democrats should focus on the economic worries of working-class voters who bolted the party in the 2016 elections.
Kennedy delivered the speech from a vocational high school in Fall River, Massachusetts, a one-time manufacturing hub now struggling with high unemployment and other problems.
Fall River demonstrates the value of that message, he said in the prepared remarks.
“Fall River has faced its share of storms. But people here are tough. They fight for each other. They pull for their city,” he said.
The red-haired Kennedy was elected to the House in 2012, returning the family to Congress two years after the retirement of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of Joe Kennedy III’s great-uncle Ted.
The selection of Kennedy, known mostly for his famous last name, has been criticized by some as tone-deaf at a time when the sexual harassment of women and the Black Lives Matter movement are at the forefront of Democratic politics.
Still, Kennedy outlined a Democratic vision touting a “better deal for all who call this country home.”
Democrats support a higher minimum wage, paid leave for employees and affordable child care, among other priorities, he said.
A former Peace Corps volunteer, Kennedy was an assistant district attorney in two Massachusetts districts before being elected to Congress. He has focused on economic and social justice in Congress and has advocated on behalf of vocational schools and community colleges and championed issues such as transgender rights and marriage equality.
To illustrate that message, Kennedy invited U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender woman, as his guest to the State of the Union. King, an infantry squad leader at Fort Lewis, Washington, was the first person to have sex reassignment surgery paid for by the military.
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