Joe Kennedy III Might Be the Most Optimistic Guy in Congress

How long until Washington manages to beat it out of him?

joe kennedy iii

Photos by David S. Bernstein

Joe Kennedy III seems remarkably upbeat for a guy who works at the most dysfunctional place on Earth, aka the U.S. House of Representatives. I had a chance to sit down with him Friday, at the Rox Diner in Newton (that’s him indulging in his somewhat disturbing iced coffee habit, above), and rather than grumbling about the crazy do-nothing Republicans, he professed to loving life as a first-term Congressman.

Kennedy is charmingly optimistic about the prospects for his first major bill, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act. GovTrack gives it a 25 percent chance of being enacted in the Senate and 19 percent chance in the House, which is high indeed for the current state of Capitol Hill. Working with Republican Tom Reed of New York, Kennedy has lined up an impressive 41 GOP co-sponsors and an equal number of Democrats.

It’s a relatively small-scale attempt to fund public-private partnerships—”it’s not going to rebuild the middle class,” Kennedy concedes. “OK, you can’t do comprehensive tax reform; you can’t do immigration reform,” Kennedy says of the current Congress. “But instead of sitting around lamenting that, can you break it down to something you can do…. Let’s take these bite-sized steps.”

Kennedy is also doing a minimal amount of overt public power-building, in the style of his 18-month contemporary in the Senate, Elizabeth Warren—even though he’s freed up by the Republicans’ failure to field a challenger to him in 2014. Kennedy has no Leadership PAC, and does limited travel and fundraising for other Democrats—hardly unusual for a freshman, but we all know he’s not a typical freshman.

He’s also positively radiant in praising his colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation—who have not always been entirely in sync. “It’s actually a great group of people that get along together,” Kennedy says. He credits Richard Neal, the new post-Markey dean of the group, for bringing them together for frequent meetings and issue updates. He also says that there is an informal “Massachusetts congregating area” near the well of the House. “You can see the tops of our heads on C-SPAN during votes,” he says.

We’ll see how long this sunniness lasts before Washington beats it out of him.