In rare move, Pelosi backs a challenger, Kennedy, in incumbent Sen. Markey's reelection bid

Pelosi and Markey served together in the House for more than a quarter of a century

Updated: August 20, 2020 - 4:30pm

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Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy III in his primary challenge against incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, an unusual decision considered members rarely back a challenger to a party incumbent. 

Markey was a House Democrat for roughly 37 years before being elected in 2012 to the Senate. He served in the lower chamber with Pelosi for 25 years before being elected to the upper chamber.

He is locked in his tight race with Kennedy, a member of the Kennedy political family whose considered one of the party's rising stars. Massachusetts voters go to the polls in September to decide a winner.


"Never before have the times demanded we elect courageous leaders as today, and that is why I am proud to endorse Joe Kennedy for Senate,” said Pelosi in an endorsement video. 

Pelosi credits the 39-year-old Kennedy with helping to flip the House blue in 2018 by campaigning across the country during that election cycle. In 2018, she selected Kennedy to deliver the Democratic response to President Trump's first State of the Union address.  

Pelosi's endorsement, however, is a snub to the 74-year-old Markey, who supported Pelosi during her initial tenure as Speaker of the House in 2007. Markey is running to the left of Kennedy, who like the elders of his political family is more of a centrist.

Earlier this cycle, Pelosi publicly endorsed progressive Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, with whom she has publicly squabbled since their election in 2018. 

Markey has recently made climate change his signature issue, co-authoring a piece of 2009 climate policy that forced many moderates in his party to confront their views on climate change. He is also the co-sponsor, along with progressive leader Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of the Green New Deal policy statement.