The Magical Andy Kim

Leo Mahe ’26 in Opinions | May 26, 2024

Five years into office, Rep. Andy Kim stands out in a crowded district with once-tight battles between Republicans and Democrats. His district voted for Donald Trump, while Kim voted to impeach him; they supported a man who helped destroy Medicare before voting for someone who fought to protect it. Kim, a Moderate Democrat and member of the Progressive Caucus, is pushing successful progressive policies in a district more red than blue.

In 2019, Kim was elected as a Congressman in the Third District of New Jersey after beating MacArthur, the incumbent Republican. In an interview with NPR, Kim stated that he got into the race after “seeing that contrast between [his] representative on TV” while he was “at the hospital, worrying about [his] family’s future.” In what was once a reliably red district, where his opponent “MacArthur won his district two years ago by over 20 points,” Kim persevered, earning the trust of his constituents to work for them.

Since then, Kim has won two more congressional races, primarily thanks to his policy choices. From the start, he pushed for reforms in Medicare, telling me in an interview that healthcare was “central to the reason [he] started to run for office.” Kim voted to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 a month, significantly lower than the previous average of $58, and secured a $2000-per-year cap on prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare. Kim believes “we all benefit if we are healthier as a nation,” a belief that has helped him gain support across the aisle on several issues. His pushes to reduce healthcare costs have proved extremely successful, leading to his gaining a solid grip on a once deep-red stronghold.

Beyond healthcare, Kim has worked on projects such as the Child Tax Credit, a temporary bill financially supporting needy families. The bill “was able to cut child poverty in half for a little over a year” in his district, an extremely impressive feat that shows how welfare policies can significantly improve the lives of working-class families. Kim estimated that around 50 to 60 thousand people in his district “are considered food insecure, which is like a bureaucratic, political way of saying that they’re hungry.” Even in the richest nation in the world, huge swaths of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to keep their heads above water, and low-to-middle-income policies like the Child Tax Credit are enormously beneficial to the average American.

Through his policy focus, Kim brought in a huge swath of voters, who once preferred candidates who destroyed welfare policies. Beginning during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, “welfare programs'' were slowly demonized by the public, and terms like “welfare queen” became the norm, stigmatizing people for needing government support. Many voters in the working class, who benefited the most from welfare, followed suit, growing increasingly opposed to these policies. However, Kim’s success in pushing for progressive economic policy suggests a changing of the tide in public opinion.

Having excellent policies is not the only way to succeed in politics, and Kim maintains bipartisanship by remaining friendly with Republicans. By maintaining amicable relationships with politicians across the aisle, Kim has found he can push further for improvements.

Rep. Kim is well prepared for the political sphere and works with both sides. As a civilian advisor in the war in Afghanistan and a National Security Advisor for Former President Obama, Rep. Kim has already navigated the political space and knows the needs of those who, like him, once served. His strong support for veterans, whom he believes should get more support from the government, shows his desire to help an often underserved and unheard community. 

Although policies like Medicare seem unpopular among Republicans, possibly due to the “Obama” strung at the front, a whopping 94 percent of older adults covered by the program are satisfied with it. Because Republicans are generally more willing to understand Kim’s perspective, his policies for lowering costs are seen in a much more favorable light. This has led him to consistently win in a district that voted for Trump in 2020, showing his ability to move past political barriers. Reducing costs for Americans, while seemingly a Democratic ideal, is extremely popular among average citizens.

In Congress, Kim prioritized cross-party collaboration in many of his decisions; the first bill that he “introduced into Congress was a bipartisan healthcare bill, and it was something that [he] did alongside Congressman Fitzpatrick,” a Republican. In swing districts, it’s particularly important to play both sides and understand all arguments, because people in say, the Third District of New Jersey, will have different needs than those of residents in New York City. Although many of his constituents are politically “on the fence,” Kim helps them understand broad, sometimes unclear issues such as climate change by connecting them to real issues in his district. He states that he tries to “come at it from a different direction” and “would have to localize some of this and kind of talk about real things that are happening in [his] community.” In his words, successful political advocacy is “more than just talking points; it’s about actually trying to, you know, fix real problems in the community.”

However, Kim’s success in pushing for progressive economic policies shows the apparent popularity of today’s “radical” ideas. MacArthur’s destruction of Medicare reminded Republican voters in the district that MacArthur’s conservative, anti-welfare stance was more divorced from their interests than previously thought.

His continued success suggests that advocating for decreased costs and improving welfare policy for working-class families is a realistic and popular policy angle for Democratic candidates, reaching voters who otherwise would normally vote Republican in the general election. Perhaps more moderates will follow him in placing simple economic policy at the forefront of their political agenda, turning the tides against animosity towards “radial progressive policies.” Even in today’s hyperpolarized political arena, this rising star in the Democratic Party shows that, with the right strategy, politicians can subvert long-entrenched narratives in American politics and win, too.