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Kennedy stands by decision to attend Trump’s inauguration

Kennedy won reelection in November, carrying 70 percent of the vote in the Fourth Congressional District, which runs southwest from Brookline to the South Coast.
Kennedy won reelection in November, carrying 70 percent of the vote in the Fourth Congressional District, which runs southwest from Brookline to the South Coast.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

NEWTON — Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III on Tuesday stood by his decision to attend Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, even as scores of other House Democrats have said they will boycott the event.

A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Kennedy said the decision, which some liberals have sought to turn into a litmus test, was grounded in the occasion rather than the man set to become the 45th president.

“Believe me, not going to be a whole lot of fun, and I totally understand why some of my colleagues would not want to be there,” Kennedy told the Globe before hosting an event billed as a “grass-roots meeting” for Democrats at a local high school.

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“For me, this is about the celebration of the democratic process and the transfer of power, and recognizing that, still in some parts of the world this doesn’t happen,” the third-term Newton Democrat said. “So, it’s not about the person, it is about the process and the celebration of our democracy, so I should be there.”

Representative Katherine Clark is the only member of the state’s congressional delegation to publicly declare her intent not to attend Friday’s events. A growing number of Democrats across the country have said the same, according to multiple national reports.

Addressing several hundred activists at Newton South High School, Kennedy said the “core message” of Trump’s election was that “there are an awful lot of people across our country that are still hurting and have been hurting for an awful long time.”

“These are folks who have always called the Democratic Party home, and for some reason, this time around, they decided to trust Donald Trump with their vote,” Kennedy said, adding, “Somewhere along the way, we lost their trust, and we’ve got to get it back.”

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Kennedy won reelection in November, carrying 70 percent of the vote in the Fourth Congressional District, which runs southwest from Brookline to the South Coast. He backed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders during the contentious presidential primary.

Asked outside the school whether he thought it was important that Democrats unseat Republican Governor Charlie Baker next year, Kennedy replied, “I do.”

“We have to ensure over the course of years ahead, particularly under this administration, the Trump administration, that there is a strong example as to what progressive policies and politics means,” he said. “And Massachusetts needs to be that place.”

After Kennedy left without taking questions from the crowd, newly elected state Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford told the audience of several hundred that the defeat in November of a Baker-backed ballot effort to lift the state cap on charter schools, combined with Baker’s handling of the state budget, left the popular governor vulnerable.

“We created a fissure in the foundation that is Charlie Baker’s campaign,” Bickford said.

Asked to respond, Baker adviser Jim Conroy said: “The governor’s focus remains on continuing to deliver results for the Commonwealth by leading a bipartisan and reform-oriented administration focused on the efficient and accountable management of state government, rather than engaging in charged partisan rhetoric that offers nothing for the residents of Massachusetts.”

Kennedy is one of several young Democrats whom party insiders regard as a likely eventual candidate for higher office, but he has made no concrete moves toward a run against Baker. Several Democrats — including former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez, Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, and former state senator Dan Wolf — have done more to stir speculation about a 2018 bid. Gonzalez, of Needham, was in attendance Tuesday night.

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Several of Kennedy’s fellow Massachusetts Democrats have taken steps to offer vocal opposition to Trump.

Clark has said she will boycott Friday’s inauguration, Representative Seth Moulton has ripped the president-elect as a “draft dodger” for his avoidance of service in Vietnam, and state Attorney General Maura Healey has hosted post-election town-hall forums in which liberal activists voice their angst over Trump’s victory.

Pressed Tuesday on whether he intended to challenge Baker, Kennedy replied, “No plans on that one.”


Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.