All eyes will be on President Trump on the evening of Jan. 30 when he delivers his first State of the Union (SOTU) address to Congress. As is typical of an opposition party following the president's annual speech, Democrats are gearing up for their response to Trump's SOTU. This year, Rep. Joe Kennedy, a rising Democratic star from one of the country's oldest and most famous political families, will be delivering the rebuttal speech.
Kennedy, who was elected in 2012 and is serving his third term in Congress as a Massachusetts representative, is seen by some as an emerging progressive powerhouse in the party. His national profile grew in the past year with fiery speeches criticizing the GOP's efforts to repeal Obamacare and President Trump's controversial remarks on the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. As the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy and the great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy, he has youth (he's 37 years old) on his side and the name recognition — at least, in his last name — to boot.
In September, Politico's Heather Caygle reported that some Democrats "believe he could help fill the party’s leadership vacuum," though whether he's on board with that remained to be seen. With him as the party's choice for the face of its rebuttal to Trump's State of the Union, however, it may be a sign that he's coming around to the idea of a young progressive leader within the aging Democratic Party.
In a statement about this news that he shared on Twitter, Kennedy said:
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. Deeply honored to be chosen to deliver the response to the State of the Union next week.
Kennedy's speech will follow Trump's address on Tuesday. Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, the first Latina elected to the state's House of Delegates, will deliver the Democrats' response in Spanish after Kennedy.
There's usually plenty of hype surrounding those picked to deliver the party's rebuttal to the president's SOTU; they're typically seen as a rising star in the party. Take Sen. Marco Rubio, who in 2013 delivered the GOP's rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union. Though he was widely ridiculed for reaching offscreen for a water bottle and awkwardly drinking from it about halfway through his speech — The New Yorker descriptively detailed the Florida senator's discomfort — Rubio later ran for president in 2016.
Some have already jumped to the possibility of Kennedy 2020; he's also expressed interest in running for Senate down the line. But there is also resistance to the possibility, given that he is not only part of America's most famous political dynasty (an idea that some Americans embrace and others despise), he's also a straight white male — which, considering the calls for diversity in the Democratic Party leadership and the left in general, might not be seen as a step forward.
Democrats will come prepared to take on Trump's first State of the Union. Many have invited Dreamers and sexual assault survivors as their guests, and some Democratic lawmakers have vowed to wear black, channeling Hollywood to display solidarity with the #MeToo movement.
And having Kennedy as the face of their response could prove highly effective. He's a charismatic speaker who is gaining national prominence, and though he may not be immediately interested in running for president — or even senator — anytime soon, delivering the Democrats' rebuttal speech to Trump's State of the Union could well give Kennedy get a firm boost to the national spotlight.