Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, sharpened their elbows as they faced off for a televised debate Monday evening.
The two jabbed at each other over everything from social justice issues to defunding police departments to their ability to reach across the aisle to pass major pieces of legislation.
Markey said Kennedy was slow to support Medicare for All and failed to raise the issue of climate change when he delivered the Democratic response in 2018 to President Trump’s State of the Union address.
“Congressman Kennedy is a progressive in name only,” Markey said during the debate on WPRI-TV, also noting Kennedy’s decision early in his career to work as a prosecutor for Michael O’Keefe, a Republican district attorney.
“He could have worked for anyone. He could have worked for the Innocence Project. He could have worked as a tenant’s rights attorney,” Markey said. “But instead he decided to go and work for a right-wing Republican who opposes the kind of progressive changes we’re looking for.”
Kennedy reached back to the late 1970s to highlight Markey’s initial opposition to busing to achieve racial integration in Boston’s public schools — an opposition Markey later dropped.
Kennedy also said Markey hasn’t done enough during his decades in office to address “the laws and the structures that have come down as a boot on the neck of communities of color.”
“You might be known for some things in your time in office, senator, racial justice and criminal justice is not one of them,” Kennedy said.
Despite the verbal sparring, the two largely agreed on many issues from abolishing the Electoral College to extending benefits to immigrants who are in the country illegally and pay taxes, but who have also lost their jobs in the pandemic.
Both candidates also stopped short of calling for the defunding of police departments, but both said there is a need to restructure budgets to balance spending on police and spending on other needs like schools.
Markey also pointed to a series of bills he has pushed during his time in office with bipartisan help and his support for a Green New Deal resolution he introduced with New York Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Kennedy, who also supports the Green New Deal, said there’s more to the job than just filing bills.
Kennedy said during the past election cycle he traveled to about 20 states to campaign for fellow Democrats to help flip the House from Republican to Democratic control.
The debate not only comes amid the ongoing pandemic but also the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last month after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck as he pleaded for air.
Earlier Monday, Kennedy said he would join with fellow Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York in introducing a bill that would lower the standard of proof in criminal cases in which a person’s civil rights have been violated by changing the standard from “willfulness” to “recklessness” — a change Kennedy said could apply in cases involving police brutality and excessive use of force.
Markey, 73, has served in Congress for decades — first in the House and later in the Senate. The 39-year-old Kennedy, who currently represents the state’s 4th Congressional District, is a member of the state’s most storied political family.
Kennedy is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, who was attorney general in his brother John F. Kennedy’s White House before being elected to the U.S. Senate representing New York. His father represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House.
The contest has struggled to gain the attention of voters.
It was first overshadowed by the impeachment debate and later by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing them to replace campaign rallies with virtual town halls.
Kennedy had been edging out Markey in fundraising. As of the end of March, Kennedy reported more than $6.2 million in cash on hand in his campaign account compared with $4.4 million for Markey.
The primary is Sept. 1.
Kevin O’Connor, an attorney, and Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran as an independent in the 2018 Senate race, are vying for the Republican nomination.