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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Libertarian National Convention.
Jose Luis Magana/AP

Capitol Hill’s RFK-Friendly Lawmakers Are Exactly Who You Think They Are

No lawmaker in Congress is explicitly supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr., but there is one Republican and one Democrat who sound a little more curious than the others. The others hate him.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. scrounges for support ahead of the June presidential debate, he won’t find much help on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a joke,” Republican Rep. Max Miller of Ohio told NOTUS of Kennedy’s insurgent bid. “He knows it’s a joke.”

“He wants to be relevant. He’s a Kennedy. He’s bored. He has money. His wife’s a celebrity,” Miller continued. “He had nothing better to do than to change his political views like so many when they run for political office.”

The independent candidate — the black sheep scion of the Kennedy political dynasty — has built his campaign around disruption. A former Democrat whose campaign rhetoric borrows from the Trumpian impulse toward the outrageous, Kennedy is attempting to siphon votes from disillusioned Biden and Trump voters.

He’s found a degree of success. Kennedy repeatedly polls around 15% and claims to have been granted ballot access in 19 states — though several of those states haven’t certified his candidacy. Still, Kennedy’s presidential bid is a long shot that could use a boost of legitimacy from high-profile backers on Capitol Hill.

But in Congress, where nearly every lawmaker has backed Biden or Trump, members on both sides of the aisle hardly had anything nice to say about Kennedy. Many told NOTUS there is absolutely no place for him on the debate stage.

That is, except for one or two notable exceptions — the one Republican and one Democrat you perhaps most expected: Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Dean Phillips.

Phillips, best known for launching his own dark horse Democratic campaign against Biden, told NOTUS he thinks Kennedy should be on the debate stage next Thursday.

Since dropping out after a poor showing on Super Tuesday, Phillips has endorsed the president. But he wants to hear more from Kennedy.

“I believe that this restriction of competition and limiting access and exposure is exactly why so many Americans are so furious,” Phillips told NOTUS. “And in no small part, it has very much led to Trumpism and distaste for politics.”

While Phillips has endorsed Biden but wants to see him at the debate, Paul actually hasn’t endorsed anybody — but isn’t saying if he wants Kennedy to debate.

The cantankerous senator from Kentucky has reportedly gotten chummy with Kennedy. And Kennedy gushed on X about a “wonderful talk” he had with Paul and endorsed him for Senate GOP leader after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his impending retirement this winter. (Paul never publicly indicated he was interested in the top job.)

Paul — most closely resembling a no-nonsense libertarian who’s attached himself to the Republican Party out of convenience — has also refused to back Trump, leaving him room to endorse Kennedy. But Paul brushed off a question from NOTUS about Kennedy’s campaign this week.

“I don’t have a short answer for you,” Paul said, content to leave it at that.

Most lawmakers in Congress were hardly content to leave it at that. When you get them going about Kennedy, they have plenty to say.

Trump acolyte Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas said Kennedy’s reported consideration of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers speaks volumes.

“He is a pretty good quarterback, Aaron Rodgers,” Nehls said. “But if that was your VP pick, you’ve got a very, very short bench.”

Asked about Kennedy, influential conservative Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina resorted to insults.

“He’s got a raspy voice,” Norman told NOTUS. “But, you know, he’s still a liberal.”

There was generally no love lost among Democrats either. Kennedy’s platform has fanned flames of vaccine skepticism and anti-LGBTQ+ conspiracies, incensing many of his former party.

“He’s always had nutjob perspectives on things,” progressive Rep. Robert Garcia of California said. “His attack on trans people, his bizarre ideas of what science is, he’s been, quite frankly, very harmful.”

Democratic and GOP political strategists have spent weeks bellyaching over Kennedy potentially swaying the election for their opponent — recent polling cuts both ways. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns have blasted Kennedy’s candidacy, signaling he may be more than just a gadfly.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have been gaming out whether Kennedy’s bid delivers a greater blow to Biden or Trump. For Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Kennedy’s candidacy is not worth the gamble.

“We have a very real risk of fascism,” Ocasio-Cortez told NOTUS. “And I don’t think that a campaign or any group that is so marginal right now really contributes to our fight for democracy.”

Other Democrats targeted Kennedy’s fraught relationship with his family. More than a dozen members of the Kennedy clan endorsed Biden in April and accused their kin of abetting Trump.

“The fact that his family overwhelmingly is not supporting him tells you a lot and speaks volumes,” Rep. Salud Carbajal of California said.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts — who ran in the state’s Democratic political circles with late Sen. Ted Kennedy — told NOTUS it’s “really sad to see him do this.”

The Kennedy campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

For his part, Trump has said he has “no problem” debating Kennedy if he hits CNN’s 15% polling threshold.

And while Paul and Phillips seemed to be the two lawmakers most open to hearing more from Kennedy, there were some far-right members of the House who did seem to have a soft spot for Kennedy. As if confessing a guilty pleasure, Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana — a die-hard Trump supporter — told NOTUS, “I kinda like him.” “He is rather brash and unconventional,” Higgins said of Kennedy. “I disagree with a lot of his positions, but I felt that he was a fresh voice in a way that President Trump was.”

Other lawmakers used Kennedy as an excuse to launch into a critique of Biden. Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, for example, criticized the Biden administration for denying Kennedy’s request for Secret Service protection.

“It’s a disgrace that they don’t give him Secret Service protection,” Burchett told NOTUS. “He’s had death threats, and it falls clearly on the shoulders of the president. I think it shows arrogance.”

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas commended Kennedy for “raising important questions,” adding that “it’s pretty ridiculous he’s just been boxed out by that and shunned by the Democratic Party.”

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But Republican lawmakers aren’t exactly taking up arms on Kennedy’s behalf. Most cast him as an unserious person or said they had forgotten about his campaign entirely. If anything, Kennedy has become the subject of endless punch lines about his unconventional run.

Referencing Kennedy’s shocking admission that a parasitic worm ate part of his brain, Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia posted on X last month, “You either die a Kennedy with a hole in the brain or live long enough to become a Kennedy with a hole in the brain.”

The comment sparked a wave of internet outrage, but Collins suggested Kennedy should get used to the jabs.

“Welcome to the game,” Collins told NOTUS.

Riley Rogerson is a reporter at NOTUS.