Residents of Newton, and surrounding communities, nearly packed the theatre at Newton North High School on Sunday afternoon to its 600-person capacity for a town hall meeting with Representative Joe Kennedy III. The third-term Congressman from Massachusetts’ fourth district is embarking on “Tour 34,” an effort to hold constituent office hours or town hall meetings in the 34 cities and towns that he represents each year in the House. In the meeting, Kennedy spent two hours answering questions and addressing concerns about topics ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency, the ethics of President Donald Trump’s administration, and immigration.
Kennedy began by speaking briefly about healthcare and Russia, two issues that have consumed the current news cycle and driven discussion in Washington since President Trump took office.
His takeaway from the recent health care debacle—in which Trump and the Congressional GOP attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—is that the voice of the people is often underestimated. Kennedy highlighted the important role played by citizens who called their representatives to voice opposition to the bill.
“For anyone who doubts whether that matters,” Kennedy said, “I point to [that] Friday and say it does.”
On Russia, the congressman took a more serious tone, stating that the recent events involving Representative Devin Nunes and the investigation into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia have “cast a shadow on the House and its ability to do anything effectively” and that Nunes played “indirectly or by design right into Russia’s hands.”
He also voiced his belief that the events that have transpired are a detriment to not only the GOP, but the Democrats as well, impacting the credibility and authority of anyone working in the Capitol. The hope for a good and thorough investigation, Kennedy said, now rests with the Senate.
In his answers to constituent questions, Kennedy joked about comments that the president has made, like the infamous “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” and expressed mock disbelief that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still existed when he was asked about the drastic cuts the new administration has made to the agency. His levity landed well with a crowd that appeared very supportive of its congressional representative, unlike many of his counterparts who have held town halls in other states and been met with open hostility.
Following a question from the audience, Kennedy also spoke on the EPA regarding the cuts that the Trump administration made to the agency. Attempting to quell worries that the cuts will set the country and the world on a path for destruction, he explained how budget negotiations could offset the cuts and that no one was entirely against clean air and water—painting a more hopeful picture.
Many questions centered around the ethics and potential impeachment of Trump. With regard to ethics issues, Kennedy spoke mostly in generalizations, explaining that the Ethics Committee deals mostly with Congress, and the Oversight Committee deals with the Executive Branch. Kennedy explained that the Emoluments Clause is where the president, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner could run into the most issues. The clause, which prevents gift giving and profiting within the government, has a foriegn application as well as a lesser-known domestic one, which Kennedy believes could trip up the Trumps and Kushner during their time in the White House.
Asked if he would support a move for impeachment, Kennedy spoke again in hypotheticals, stressing the need for integrity in the process. He explained that the early removal of a President of the United States is not a matter to be taken lightly. Impeaching the president on unfounded grounds could set a bad precedent, and taint one of the gravest responsibilities with which the House is charged.
When questioning moved to immigration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, Kennedy commended Newton for its efforts in that area, referencing the passing of the Sanctuary City ordinance. Kennedy himself, who is descended from Irish immigrants, expanded on his backstory, saying that while his Irish ancestors faced persecution after arriving and settling in the United States, they were never told that they were entirely unwelcome. Now immigrants are being told through the actions of the law enforcement that they are unwanted before they even come. After drawing the meeting to a close, Kennedy left Newtonians with words pushing citizens to look toward the future.
“The federal government isn’t going to be standing up like it has in the past, communities are going to have to,” Kennedy said.
Featured Image by MaryElizabeth Mooney / Heights Staff