Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, said in a televised debate Monday that generations of racial injustice is helping fuel the protests that have swept across the country this week.
"The anger that is motivating people at this moment is about literally centuries of injustice for folks who have been screaming out for justice now for literally centuries and have still yet to get that hearing in Washington D.C.," Kennedy said.
"For far too long communities of color have been asked to share a burden of structures that they did not write," Kennedy added. "The burden to fight has to be on those of us who actually wrote those policies to begin with."
Markey, who is trying to fend off Kennedy, said during the hourlong debate that the country has to face the racism in society that is stoking the outrage.
"It is not just our buildings that are on fire, it is the very soul of our country which is on fire right now and that fire will not go out until we confront the systemic racism that is built into our society," Markey said.
"When President Trump says he wants to make America great again, he does not. He wants to make America hate again," Markey added. "When President Trump calls those protesters scum, he just shows what a racist he is."
The two also tried to draw contrasts with each other during the debate, which was sponsored by a media consortium.
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Kennedy said Markey should have done more to help stave off the worst outcomes of the coronavirus by having systems in place to cope with the public health crisis earlier on.
"I think this moment calls for better judgement than the senator has exhibited," he said. "You take on those challenges upstream."
Markey said he has helped to make sure funding for fishermen and gig workers was included in federal pandemic aid packages.
"I have led and delivered for the people of Massachusetts," he said.
Markey also pointed to his long legislative record and his support for a Green New Deal resolution he introduced with New York Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Kennedy has said he also supports the Green New Deal.
There were other areas where the two agreed.
Both said they continue to support Medicare for All, even though Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed a more moderate approach to expanding access to health care.
Both also said they would support U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, as a running mate for Biden.
Both also said they were open to reparations for descendants of slaves. Kennedy said it's time to have an open and honest discussion about the issue. Markey also said it's time to have a national debate.
The debate had originally been scheduled for March but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The race pits two well-known Democratic politicians against each other, with Kennedy hoping to unseat the incumbent Markey.
Markey, 73, has served in Congress for decades — first in the House and later in the Senate. The 39-year-old Kennedy, who currently represents the state's 4th Congressional District stretching southward from the greater Boston area, is a member of the state's most storied political family.
Kennedy is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, who was attorney general in his brother John F. Kennedy's White House before being elected to the U.S. Senate representing New York. His father represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House.
While the two agreed on many issues, Kennedy has argued he is better positioned than Markey to fight for those issues in Congress now.
Despite the typically high-profile nature of a U.S. Senate race — particularly a primary fight involving two Democrats in Massachusetts — the Markey and Kennedy battle has struggled to gain attention with voters.
It was first overshadowed in part by the impeachment debate and the Democratic presidential primaries and later by the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the way the two candidates have campaigned.
With campaign rallies and face-to-face meetings with voters no longer an option, the two have relied on virtual town halls and online appeals.
Kennedy had been edging out Markey in the race to stockpile campaign funds ahead of the primary.
As of the end of March, Kennedy reported more than $6.2 million in cash on hand in his campaign account. That's compared with $4.4 million for Markey.
The primary is Sept. 1.
Kevin O'Connor, an attorney, and Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran as an independent in the 2018 Senate race, are vying for the Republican nomination.