Democratic donor Laurene Powell Jobs is expanding her political operation with Joe Kennedy

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Representative Joe Kennedy at an outdoor news conference.
Joe Kennedy offers a new bridge for Laurene Powell Jobs to Washington, DC. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The grandson of Robert F. Kennedy lost an ugly race for the Senate last year.

Democratic megadonor and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs is beefing up her political operation, bringing in heavyweights like former Massachusetts Congress member Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, to help broker relationships in Washington, DC.

Emerson Collective, Powell Jobs’s organization, hired Kennedy this month as a senior adviser, Recode has learned from an internal announcement. The former lawmaker becomes one of the highest-profile figures to work at the 150-person organization, bringing with him a Rolodex of valuable political contacts at the dawn of a new Democratic administration.

“In this role, he will be a trusted collaborator offering guidance on how we can advance our policy priorities and our broader mission building an America that is more equal and just for all,” reads the Emerson note obtained by Recode.

The representative for Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District rose to prominence after delivering the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union in 2018. The liberal millennial lawmaker then decided to forego running for a fifth term in the House to try to oust incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, who was more than three decades his senior and was a leading progressive voice in his own right. The race, which Kennedy lost, drew national attention and raised questions about the best direction for the party. Powell Jobs donated $5,600 to back Kennedy in his insurgent run.

Powell Jobs is entering a new phase in her political influence: She and Emerson spent the last four years largely playing defense against the Trump administration, particularly on immigration policy, when she tried to push back on Trump’s attempt to terminate the DACA program for young undocumented immigrants. Now, with a friendlier administration that Powell Jobs strongly backed financially, Emerson will have the opportunity to play some offense and try to make tangible progress on its policy priorities like immigration, an issue area which requires a political touch.

“We now have the opportunity to work for the systemic solutions we know we need — solutions that can remake the calcified systems in our country, from immigration and education to race and reconciliation, criminal justice and climate,” Powell Jobs said in an email to supporters the weekend after the election was called. “We will let out the breath we have been holding in for so long. As celebratory as we feel, we also know that much work lies ahead — the work of healing the wounds and repairing the breaches.”

Emerson has always had experts in its priority policy areas, but is now expanding its political and media chops. The organization has created two new roles, including one called Director of Campaigns and Partnerships, to execute “communications and public affairs campaigns that strengthen our influence, media coverage, coalition development, message and stakeholder relationships,” according to a job posting.

Also on the political front, Emerson Collective last year quietly invested in Civis Analytics, a prominent Democratic data firm launched by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Recode is told.

Emerson’s work in Washington has long rolled up to chief of staff Stacey Rubin, Powell Jobs’s aide-de-camp and a former official in the Clinton administration. But adding Kennedy offers another bridge to key politicians.

Kennedy has also taken up side gigs as a commentator on CNN; as an adviser to the Poor People’s Campaign, an anti-poverty group; and has started a new political action committee. The once-rising star notably also hasn’t ruled out running for office again.

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