The Interview: Joe Kennedy III

The U.S. representative is fed up with gun violence and can’t understand why “compromise” is a dirty word in DC. But before the Camelot scion can change Capitol Hill, he needs to win in November.

joe kennedy iii interview

Photograph by Brian Finke

Aside from his last name, there is nothing overtly Kennedy-esque about Joe Kennedy. In fact, the 35-year-old congressman has all the hallmarks of a nerd, with his curly mop of orange hair and a mumbling conversation style a world away from the stately bravado of his bloodline. Over coffee and eggs in Newton, however, he reveals a side of himself every bit as ambitious and polished as his ancestors. With much speculation that Senator Elizabeth Warren could join a potential Hillary Clinton White House, it may be only a matter of time before we have another Senator Kennedy in Washington.

You’ve said if Senator Elizabeth Warren’s seat ever opens up, you’d consider running for it. Is that still your plan?

[Laughs.] I literally don’t even know what I’m going to be doing for lunch today. I’ve got a six-month-old daughter who is awesome. My wife and I are in the midst of this crazy, amazing chaos of being first-time parents. If Senator Warren’s seat comes up, I don’t know, it’s something I’ll take a look at. But at this point it’s not my focus and it’s not going to be my focus. I want to enjoy my daughter, enjoy some time with my wife, enjoy the job I have and try to do my best at it.

In 2014 you ran unopposed. Now you’re up against a little-known Republican named David Rosa, whose platform focuses on term limits and immigration. Are you surprised he emerged to challenge you?

No. People feel like they’ve got ideas to offer and they want to make a case about those kinds of ideas. When I ran my uncle’s [Senator Ted Kennedy’s] last campaign, in 2006, he always said, “You run for a position; you don’t run against anybody.” An election is your opportunity to go out there and make a case to the voters about why you should serve them, or continue to serve them, as a representative. You don’t go out there and say, “Hey, I’m better than the other guy.”

On his campaign’s Facebook page, Rosa recently shared a meme that says, “Americans Have the Right to Insult Islam.” Thoughts?

To make Donald Trump seem moderate is a pretty impressive feat, but I think Mr. Rosa has done so.

How do you digest America’s obsession with the Kennedys?

My family has been in the public eye, obviously, for a long time. The message that President Kennedy is known for, challenging every person to make a contribution to our society, still resonates with Democrats and Republicans. I am no longer surprised by how many of my Republican colleagues in Washington say they were motivated to get into public service because of President Kennedy and my grandfather [Robert Kennedy].

Did you get a sneak peek at the new documentary I Am JFK Jr.: A Tribute to a Good Man?

[Shakes his head no.]

Does the attention on your family ever get old?

Successes and shortcomings have obviously been chronicled in the public—that comes with the territory. But I think what often gets overlooked, and understandably so, is when people talk about the Kennedy family, they focus more on the “Kennedy” and less on the “family.” It is a big family, it’s an amazing family, and it’s an amazing group of people and kids. What often gets lost in books and films and everything is the fact that they were moms and dads, grandparents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. They all were. Every person can relate to that. The photos on the walls are not moments of history, they’re moments with family. And I think that’s the part that often gets lost.

What’s the first website you go to in the morning?

Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Herald, Wall Street Journal. Normally, in that order. The last one I check at night is usually BuzzFeed, because I need to laugh at something.

Who is the last person you texted?

My wife.

Why did you name your dog Banjo?

He’s a rescue dog from Tennessee. So my wife was trying to come up with names that work. There were a couple names that I vetoed. I didn’t think they were going to be entirely appropriate. So Banjo is what we settled on.

Do you get offended when someone calls you a ginger?

I get that a lot actually [laughs]. No. But I did get offended when someone sent me the Facebook sign-up for “Kick a Ginger Day.” So, you know, I just figure it’s because everybody’s jealous.