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By Andrew Dorn
June 28, 2023
• RFK Jr. called for unity and refused to attack Trump or Biden
• The Democratic hopeful would not vow to support the eventual nominee
• Recent polls have Kennedy's support around 15% among Democrats
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would not pledge to support his party’s nominee, stood by his claims about vaccines and announced that “I want my party back” in his first national town hall presented by NewsNation on Wednesday.
“I’m running because I feel like my party has lost its way,” Kennedy told NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas.
Kennedy — an environmental lawyer and nephew of President John F. Kennedy — has positioned himself as a populist set on returning to the “exact values that would have been promoted by my father and uncle.”
Despite never holding elective office, Kennedy’s campaign has generated attention within the party. Among Democrats, Kennedy is polling at 15%, according to a recent Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll. Still, Biden is well ahead at 62%.
In order to win the nomination, Kennedy will have to do something no primary challenger has done in modern U.S. history — unseat an incumbent president for their party’s nomination.
RFK Jr. Focused On Unity, Won’t Bash Trump Or Biden
Vargas asked Kennedy what he thought of Donald Trump after the former president praised him as a “common sense guy” in a recent interview.
The Democratic hopeful said he’s focused on unity, not division.
“I’m not going to attack other people personally,” he said. “What I’m trying to do in this race is bring people together.”
Kennedy had the same attitude toward the current president.
“You won’t hear me saying bad things about President Biden,” Kennedy said. “I’m not going to attack him as a man.”
Instead, Kennedy said he is focused on policy disagreements, such as his differing views on war, censorship and COVID lockdowns.
RFK Jr. Won’t Vow To Support Democratic Nominee
When asked whether he would support the Democratic nominee no matter what, Kennedy declined.
“Of course, I’m not gonna do that,” he said.
Kennedy said he’ll wait to see if the person who emerges from his party is “living up to Democratic values.”
Those values, as he described them, include fighting for the middle class, protecting civil liberties and embracing debate.
“We need to figure out a way to start talking to each other and start healing each other,” Kennedy said. “This polarization is more dangerous” than at any time since the Civil War, he added.
RFK Jr. Doubles Down On Vaccine Claims
The Democratic hopeful pushed back against claims that he’s anti-vaccine and said labeling him as such is just a way of “silencing” him.
“I’ve never been anti-vaccine, and I’ve said that hundreds and hundreds of times but it doesn’t matter,” Kennedy told Vargas. “Using a pejorative to describe me is a way of silencing me or marginalizing me.”
Instead, Kennedy said he is for “safe vaccines.”
He claimed that some vaccines are not “safety tested” and that the Food and Drug Administration is a “corrupt federal agency.”
A vaccine being developed for distribution in the United States goes through two separate research phases before an initial three phases of clinical trials, according to the FDA. That research is then evaluated by scientists and medical professionals who determine whether a vaccine is safe.
Kennedy’s vaccine skepticism is unlikely to draw support from Democrats, 85% of whom think healthy children should be required to be vaccinated in order to attend public schools.
Kennedy Criticizes U.S. Role In Ukraine, Calls It ‘Proxy War’ With Russia
Kennedy criticized Biden’s strategy in Ukraine and accused the administration of using the conflict as a proxy war against Russia.
“We have neglected many opportunities to settle this war peacefully,” he said.
When asked what he would do to end the war, Kennedy said U.S. leaders have to acknowledge Russia’s security concerns and put themselves in the shoes of their adversaries.
“Russia has a legitimate concern about us moving NATO into the Ukraine,” he said. “We would never let them put missile systems in Canada or Mexico.”
That position may be out of step with most Democratic voters — the majority of whom support Biden’s response to the war in Ukraine. But Kennedy said that doesn’t make it right.
“We need to restore our moral authority around the world,” he said. “If every Democrat is against me on that, I’m still going to say it.”
RFK Jr. Says War, Government Spending Driving Inflation
On the topic most Americans say is the biggest problem facing the country, Kennedy blamed government spending and ongoing wars.
“We’re acting like an alcoholic who’s behind on his mortgage and he’s taking the milk money and buying rounds for strangers at the bar,” Kennedy said.
To tackle inflation, he vowed to “wind down the American empire” and pointed to the trillions of dollars spent on the Iraq war.
He said the current strategy of raising interest rates has done “tremendous damage” to the economy. Kennedy also blasted recent moves by the federal government to shore up the U.S. financial sector after the historic failure of Silicon Valley Bank.
“We have plenty of money for the big shots that need their bank bailouts and for any war that comes along,” he argued.
Last year, the U.S. spent an estimated $877 billion on national defense — about 40% of total spending worldwide. Although, as a percentage of national GDP, recent military spending remains historically low, around 3.5%.
“All of this money that we’re spending on the military is not making us safer and it’s not making us friends abroad,” Kennedy said.
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