As many prominent national Democrats shift to the left, Rep. Joe Kennedy III is once again having to defend views that were once, if no longer, in his party’s mainstream. This time the pressing questions didn’t come from activists or policy wonks — but Jimmy Kimmel.
The Massachusetts congressman was a guest on Kimmel’s late-night talk show Wednesday (following fellow Bay Stater John Cena) and talked about everything from this family tree to his time in the Peace Corps to his well-received, if slightly mocked, State of the Union response.
“The biggest takeaway for me from that experience is it has solidified for me the generosity, the compassion, the caring of the American public,” Kennedy told Kimmel. “I have gotten tubes of chapstick from every damn corner of this country.”
“You are against the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Why?” Kimmel asked. “What’s wrong with you?”
Kennedy’s skepticism about marijuana legalization for both recreational and medicinal purposes is well-documented, having voted against marijuana bills that even many Republicans supported. As the congressman has explained in the past, his opposition — or at least hesitance — is rooted in concerns about mental health and addiction.
Kennedy reiterated Monday that he felt lawmakers need to be “thoughtful” as the country increasingly embraces reform of marijuana laws, including in his home state of Massachusetts, and said the actions by President Donald Trump’s administration on the issue were making matters worse.
“I acknowledge that I’m an outlier on this,” he said. “I just think it’s something we want to be careful and deliberate about.”
Kimmel then moved on to Kennedy’s position on single-payer health care. Nearly a year ago, the previously apolitical talk show host became an outspoken advocate for universal health care coverage after his son was born with a congenital heart defect.
Kennedy has said he supports single-payer in concept, but has expressed concerns about the specific “Medicare-for-All” bill receiving support from fellow Democrats in Congress, specifically regarding women’s access to reproductive health procedures, the involvement of private insurance companies, what medical care is covered, and how the bill would be paid for.
“I have worked very, very hard over the course of my time in Congress to make sure that everybody does get access to quality, affordable, accessible health care,” he said Wednesday. “What we’ve seen also over the course of the past year and a half is that the details matter on this, and there’s a couple bills out there in Congress that I think those details aren’t exactly quite done up yet. And I’ve got concerns about what that means when you actually try to implement it.”
Kennedy plugged the 98-percent coverage rate in Massachusetts, where nearly every resident is required to obtain health insurance, though the state provides subsidies to lower-income individuals. The system provided a model for the Affordable Care Act that was passed and implemented at the national level under President Barack Obama.
“We have the ability to make sure that nobody is denied because of a preexisting condition, that we can in fact make it affordable and accessible to everybody,” Kennedy said. ‘We want to make sure, I want to make sure that we do that in a way that is responsible, that is accurate, and that covers everybody. And I think we can do that, but I think we got to be thoughtful about it. That’s all I’m asking.”