The Democratic congressman chosen to deliver the party's response to President Trump's State of the Union address has a last name that will naturally pique the nation's interest. His name and his career in politics suggest a familial tie, but is Rep. Joe Kennedy III related to John F. Kennedy? The two actually have more in common than just their last name.
If you're wondering why Kennedy the congressman is suddenly in the national spotlight, here's the deal: The Massachusetts Democrat will follow Trump's first State of the Union address with his own speech Tuesday night. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called him a "relentless fighter for working Americans" in a press release announcing the party's choice last week, and Kennedy said in a tweet later the same day that he was honored to represent congressional Democrats before the nation.
Kennedy is indeed a part of the famous political dynasty. He's the great-nephew of JFK and former Sen. Ted Kennedy; his grandfather was former Sen. Robert "Bobby" Kennedy. The congressman's father is Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy II, and he also has a twin brother, Matthew. He's currently the only Kennedy representing Americans in Washington, but his name carries significant weight nonetheless.
The Kennedy clan was born and raised in Massachusetts; Joe has remained in the state and represents its 4th Congressional District. Like his great-uncle JFK, he attended an Ivy League university — although both he and his brother initially left the East Coast to attend Stanford. Kennedy then went on to get a law degree from Harvard, JFK's alma mater, and was similarly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at a young age. He's now 37, having become a congressman at just 32 years of age.
It may be too soon to know if he'll follow JFK's footsteps all the way to the White House, but those who deliver a rebuttal to the State of the Union historically don't go on to become president. Since official responses to the address began during Lyndon Johnson's presidency in 1966, presidential hopefuls including former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio haven't risen in the ranks following their speeches.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is a notable exception, though she's yet to become president. After responding to President Obama's State of the Union message in 2016, she was appointed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Trump administration.
Kennedy has generated buzz recently around his willingness to call out President Trump and the GOP. In March 2017, he criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan for calling the proposed Obamacare repeal bill "an act of mercy," prompting former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to tweet:
Wow. This is a Kennedy who could be President. A must watch.
However, the current contentious political climate means it'll be challenging for Kennedy to deliver a speech that appeals to both liberals and moderates. As POLITICO's Michael Dwyer put it:
Tuesday's appearance won't give the young Kennedy much of an opportunity to match his famous kin with lofty principles and political poetry. He'll be sailing notably tricky waters.
Nevertheless, Kennedy appears to be excited about the chance to respond to Trump.
"From health care to economic justice to civil rights, the Democratic agenda stands in powerful contrast to President Trump’s broken promises to American families," he tweeted last week. "Deeply honored to be chosen to deliver the response to the State of the Union next week."
If you want to tune in and hear Trump's State of the Union address, it will stream live Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on major news networks and the White House YouTube channel. Kennedy's response will follow shortly afterward.