BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy is wrapping up his first term in Congress, saying he remains committed to the bread and butter of local constituent services while batting down talk of future higher office.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Massachusetts Democrat acknowledged that while his famous last name has helped open some doors, he faces the same challenges as any member of a minority party in the House.
That's forced him to engage in the face-to-face, coalition-building politics honed by his great-uncle, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy.
"It's not just about me trying to come up with whatever someone thinks the right answer is, writing it down on a piece of paper and filing a bill," Kennedy said. "If I'm going to pass anything, particularly being a member of the minority party, I need 217 other people — and by definition a good number of Republicans — to want to be part of my solution."
Kennedy said he learned that lesson when he began rounding up backing for a bill to support advanced manufacturing.
He said his staff studied the country district by district to figure out which areas relied more heavily on manufacturing — and then gathered letters of support from local companies. He said he was able to use those letters to appeal to lawmakers in those districts, both Democrats and Republicans.
The bill, which will create a network of regional institutes across the country supporting training and research, passed the House on a voice vote and it was signed into law by President Obama as part of a larger spending bill in December.
"That was certainly a great way to end the year," he said.
While Kennedy says his main focus is on the 34 cities and towns he represents, he's also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Kennedy said the range of conflicts and challenges — from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba — makes for "one of the most complex foreign policy moments" since the end of World War II.
"It's a really challenging time to be involved in foreign policy," he said. "It's also a really exciting time."
Kennedy said one of his top concerns is the United States' ongoing involvement battling the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
Kennedy said he's been pushing since September for Congress to vote on an authorization for the use of military force against the group also known as ISIS or ISIL. He called the administration's actions "a war or a military conflict that Congress has not authorized."
"We can't ask our men and women in uniform and their families to be bearing the brunt of another military conflict for an indefinite period of time without us understanding what success looks like," Kennedy said.
Kennedy also said he agreed that the strategies put in place more than five decades ago dealing with Cuba need to be reevaluated. But he said Cuba must improve basic human rights in exchange for a more open relationship with the U.S.
One topic Kennedy shied away from is the inevitable speculation — given his family's storied political history — about his long-term political ambitions.
Kennedy says he's focused solely on representing his district, which stretches from Brookline, Newton and the western suburbs of Boston down to Taunton, Fall River and the state's South Coast.
The 34-year-old is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and great nephew of President John F. Kennedy. He's also the son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, who represented the state's 8th Congressional District. His cousin, Patrick Kennedy, is a former congressman from Rhode Island.
"It can be a tough place, so having some folks who are willing to show you the ropes who you know and you trust is an extraordinary benefit," he said. "I'm grateful to them for that, certainly."