The Democratic Party is about to give one its fresh young faces some time in the national spotlight, albeit one with a very famous last name. Simply put, if you're reading headlines lately, and you find yourself wondering who Rep. Joe Kennedy is, you should probably familiarize yourself before he takes his starring turn.
Kennedy, 37, is the representative from Massachusetts' 4th congressional district, having held that seat since 2012. He's also been tapped by the Democrats to deliver the party's response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, in front of what will be his biggest-ever national audience.
He is indeed a member of the famed Kennedy political clan; he's the grandson of former Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated during his 1968 presidential run. He's also the great-nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, as well as former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. He's the only member of the Kennedy family currently serving in elected politics, following former representative Patrick Kennedy's departure from government in 2011.
A distinctly younger figure in an increasingly aging party, and with a face reminiscent of some of the other, more well-known scions of his family, Kennedy will be tasked with responding to Trump's high-profile address. It will be the first official State of the Union of Trump's presidency.
Make no mistake, this is a big moment for Kennedy, although it's not without considerable peril. In the recent past, the State of the Union response has been a pretty tough assignment. Last year, although Trump's speech was not an official State of the Union address, the Democrats picked a non-office holder to do the job, former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.
Before that, during the Obama administration, the GOP trotted out people like former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, all of whom earned some pretty low scores from the media.
It was during his State of the Union response that Rubio had his famous water bottle moment, pausing mid-speech to take an awkward swig from a Poland Spring bottle. The pause went instantly viral, and Rubio's been subjected to a lot of thirst-related mockery ever since, including (rather hypocritically) from Trump himself.
Furthermore, Jindal's speech was perhaps most remembered for his hyper-awkward introduction, in which he slowly walked up before addressing the cameras. On social media, many observers mocked Jindal's performance, comparing him to Jack McBrayer's Kenneth the Page character from 30 Rock. Republican analysts and pundits also panned the speech, and it really put a dent in the career of a southern governor who was once considered a presidential contender.
In short, even though Kennedy is broadly being portrayed as a rising Democratic star and a congressperson to watch in the months and years to come, it can be very hard to make a good impression in a State of the Union response. Immediately following all the pomp, circumstance, and grandeur of a presidential address in the House chamber, it's painfully easy for the response to seem awkward, small, and uncomfortable by comparison. This was especially true throughout the Obama administration, given the former president's smooth and polished rhetorical abilities.
Whether that trend will hold true when Kennedy tries to respond to Trump, who is a decidedly different style of speaker than Obama, remains to be seen. But if you're planning to watch the State of the Union, Kennedy's response, or both, you're in luck, because you won't have to wait much longer. The big night is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 30, with Trump's address slated to begin at 9 p.m. ET.