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John F. Kennedy's great-nephew is leaving Congress after eight years in the House of Representatives following a failed Senate campaign this year

By Sean Neumann
December 11, 2020 10:52 AM
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Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass
Rep. Joe Kennedy III speaks Wednesday on the floor of the House of Representatives in his farewell speech.
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, the last in the Kennedy political dynasty (for the time being), has said his goodbye to Congress.

In a “proud and hopeful” farewell address on Wednesday, the grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy called on his congressional colleagues to continue to build a more inclusive national society.

"Our future is big and bright, but it will take everything and everyone to achieve it,” the younger Kennedy, 40, said in his five-minute speech. “I hope that a new generation of Americans will rise knowing that the people's House stands tall for them."

Kennedy called out “greed” and said the perception that the U.S. doesn’t have enough resources to help all Americans in need is the “great lie of our times.”

“Loosening that lie’s grip on our country is the work of our generation,” he said. “For the people that feel unseen, unheard and unrepresented. For those most in need of assistance and protection, justice and opportunity, who have been told by their government that there is just no room or money or time or will.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass
Rep. Joe Kennedy III
| Credit: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The four-term representative lamented the idea that “injustice is a reality etched in stone, rather than a deliberate choice by those in power, about who is worthy and who is not.”

“I hope that in the months and the years ahead, this body can help change that,” he said. “That we will err on the side of expansion, of inclusion, acceptance, equity and grace, because history makes clear that the only true error is when we do the absolute opposite.”

Kennedy declined to run for reelection in the House this year in order to seek a seat in the Senate. But he lost in Massachusetts' Democratic primary in September, to incumbent Sen. Ed Markey — meaning that Congress will, for only the third time since the middle of the 20th century, be without a Kennedy.

(The late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s daughter-in-law Amy Kennedy likewise lost her campaign for a New Jersey House seat.)

I don’t regret anything about that race,” Rep. Kennedy told local TV station WPRI this week. “I don’t regret my decision to enter it. I don’t regret the campaign that we ran. I obviously wish the outcome were different.”

Joseph P. Kennedy III
From left: Rep. Joe Kennedy III and wife Lauren Birchfield Kennedy
| Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty

Joe Kennedy III was first elected to the House in 2012, as the representative for Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District.

This week he called his congressional tenure “an honor of a lifetime” and paused during his House floor speech to thank his wife, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, and asked her to deliver a message to their two young children at home: Eleanor ("Ellie"), 4, and 2-year-old James.

“Tell Ellie and James that dad has breakfast, bath and school drop-off duty for the next 15 years or so," he said.

The Kennedy grandson opened up about growing up in the political dynasty during a 2017 interview with Town & Country, saying, “People come up every day and usually say very nice things about my family, but sometimes not. You get both.”

“My family means different things to different folks,” he said then. “I think for most people they have very fond memories and believe my family made important contributions to the country. And I happen to believe so too, and I’m grateful when people do mention that and share their stories: ‘I shook your grandfather’s hand or JFK’s hand,’ or ‘I met your Uncle Teddy.’ ”

Speaking with WPRI this week, Kennedy did not rule out a return to politics.

“If those opportunities come up again, we’ll evaluate them when they do. I wouldn’t say never to anything,” he said.

But:“I like my home, and Massachusetts is home. It’s where Lauren and I are raising our family. And I’m hopeful that this next chapter in my life means a little less time on an airplane than the last eight years.”