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Democrats Unload On 'Huge Anti-Vaxxer' Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

WASHINGTON ― Congressional Democrats unloaded on 2024 Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Thursday, calling his views on vaccines dangerous and urging him to drop his long shot campaign against President Joe Biden. 

“He’s a huge anti-vaxxer. I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership we need,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told HuffPost. 

“I think he’s diverged dramatically from a fact-based approach to public policy,” added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “At some point, he might want to consider that what he’s doing is hurting President Biden.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he had “a hard time understanding why someone with an IQ like that is so gullible to a second- or third-grade level to accept some of the stuff he’s peddling.”

Kennedy, the son of slain U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in April. The 69-year-old environmental lawyer is one of the most influential spreaders of conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine misinformation, something that has prompted harsh criticism even from his own family

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appears on Fox News.
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appears on Fox News.

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appears on Fox News.

Kennedy’s brother, sister and niece condemned his anti-vax public stances in 2019 as “part of a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking ― and deadly ― consequences.”

Numerous studies have found no evidence to support the notion that vaccines cause autism and other chronic illnesses. Despite this, immunization rates have fallen, which researchers have linked to the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

That hasn’t stopped Kennedy, who at one point likened the experience of anti-vaxxers to victims of the Holocaust, including Anne Frank.

Kennedy has also been a frequent critic of U.S. support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia’s bloody invasion. On Wednesday, Kennedy expressed his belief that Russia acted in “good faith” amid the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, adding the U.S., in fact, bore heavy responsibility for the ongoing war. He said the war was a “creation of a relentless mentality of foreign domination” in the United States.

Prominent conservatives have heaped praise on Kennedy, including former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and podcast host Joe Rogan, who spoke with Kennedy recently on this show and pointed to the criticism he has received from Democrats as another case of censorship and “cancel culture” run amok. 

Kennedy is reportedly planning to give testimony on the topic of censorship to the GOP’s House committee on the “weaponization” of government, a panel created in early 2023 that has dedicated itself to shielding former President Donald Trump from legal jeopardy. 

Despite all this, Kennedy has secured a not-insignificantshare of support in early polls of the Democratic primary against Biden. One survey from Quinnipiac University this month showed him at 17% versus Biden at 70%, which served as “a bracing reminder of left-leaning voters’ healthy appetite for a Biden alternative, and as a glaring symbol of the president’s weaknesses,” according to The New York Times.

I don’t think he’s politically relevant. I think he’s media relevant.Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

One explanation for Kennedy’s support in the polls could simply be his famous last name, even if voters aren’t super familiar with him or his campaign against vaccines.

The possibility that Kennedy or Marianne Williamson, another 2024 Democratic presidential contender, could win primary contests in Iowa or New Hampshire early next year is a headache for Democrats. Biden’s team has indicated he won’t be on the ballot in those states if they hold their primaries before South Carolina as part of a new calendar intended to bolster minority voters. A win by anyone other than Biden would be a huge embarrassment to the president’s reelection effort.

But Kennedy’s candidacy ultimately hasn’t shaken Democrats, who believe Biden is almost certain to be their party’s pick for president in 2024.

“I’m very confident there will be a full rejection of Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is an acquaintance of Kennedy’s. “I support President Biden and I wish Mr. Kennedy would get out of the race.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), meanwhile, dismissed Kennedy as the product of a media fascination rather than a serious challenge to a sitting president. 

“Obviously, it’s a fun thing to write about. He’s got crazy ideas. The media doesn’t have any interest in the Democratic primary being a snoozer,” Murphy said. “I don’t think he’s politically relevant. I think he’s media relevant.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, another Massachusetts Democrat, said he found Kennedy’s views “disturbing” but dismissed the notion that his campaign could tarnish his family’s legacy. 

“The Kennedys have done so much good for this country and for the world ... that you know, their name is solid and people have high regard [for] them,” McGovern said. 

“He’s RFK. The legacy will survive,” shrugged Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vermont).

Kennedy’s campaign responded with the following statement to HuffPost: “Many establishment Democrats have abandoned core traditional values of the party. The Democratic Party long stood for civil liberties, for peace, against corporate influence, and it used to take a meaningful pro-labor stance. Mr. Kennedy’s mission to reclaim those values naturally puts him at odds with many in the Democratic leadership.”

Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.