Born in Worcester, Massachusetts on November 20, 1959, James Patrick McGovern attended American University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a BA in history in 1981 and a Masters of Public Administration in 1984. He worked as an aide to South Dakota senator George McGovern (no relation) from 1977-80, and in 1984 he ran Senator McGovern’s presidential primary campaign in Massachusetts.
From 1982-96, James McGovern worked for Massachusetts Democratic congressman Joseph Moakley, first as a senior aide and then as chief of staff. In 1990 Moakley appointed McGovern to lead a House task force investigating the Salvadoran military’s recent murder of six Jesuit priests and two lay women in El Salvador. McGovern blamed these crimes on the elected anti-Communist Salvadoran government that was fighting against Marxist Sandinista-and-Cuban-backed terrorists from neighboring Nicaragua, and he played a key role in persuading congressional Democrats to cut off U.S. aid to El Salvador. McGovern also advocated the termination of funding for the U.S. Army School of the Americas, where a number of the Salvadoran soldiers had been trained.
In 1994 McGovern, a Democrat, lost his bid for Massachusetts’s Third Congressional District seat. But two years later, with strong financial and tactical support from the AFL-CIO, he defeated Republican incumbent Peter Blute to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has been re-elected every two years since then, and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In 1997 McGovern co-sponsored Congressman Matthew Martinez’s Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act, which proposed to use $250 billion in federal funds for the establishment of union-wage jobs rebuilding infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals, libraries, public transportation, highways, and parks). Martinez had previously introduced this bill in 1995 at the request of the Los Angeles Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, whose leaders were all supporters or members of the Communist Party USA.
Since 1998, McGovern has participated in a number of hearings and briefings with the Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, founded by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins, both of whom have ties to the Institute for Policy Studies.
Calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, McGovern in 2002 joined the Cuba Working Group, which sought to promote a policy of engagement between the U.S. and Cuba. In his multiple trips to Cuba (beginning in 1979), McGovern developed a cordial relationship with Fidel Castro and once persuaded the latter to make the personal papers of former Cuban resident Ernest Hemingway accessible to American scholars.
In 1999 McGovern became involved in the high-profile case of Elian Gonzalez, a five-year-old Cuban boy whose mother had drowned while trying to escape Cuba and bring her son to the United States. After his mother’s death, Elian reached a safe haven in Florida. Congressman McGovern worked closely with the boy’s father, with Castro’s secret police representing the father, and with Democrat comrades in the Clinton administration to have the youngster returned to Havana. In January 2000, McGovern co-sponsored a bill stating that: “(1) Congress should not interfere with normal immigration proceedings by taking any legislative measures designed to delay the reunification of Elian and Juan Gonzalez; and (2) the Immigration and Naturalization Service should proceed with its original decision to return Elian Gonzalez to his father, Juan Gonzalez, in Cuba, and take all necessary steps to reunify Elian Gonzalez with his father …”
In December 2006, McGovern was part of a ten-person congressional delegation (which included also Hilda Solis) that visited Havana to meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and other communist officials. In 2013 McGovern participated in an effort to get Cuba taken off the U.S. State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. And in May 2013 he signed a document drafted by the Latin America Working Group—affiliated with the Institute for Policy Studies—urging President Barack Obama to liberalize the regulations governing Americans’ travel to Cuba.
Strongly opposed to U.S. military actions in Iraq, McGovern in 2005 became a member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
A leading congressional opponent of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (USCFTA), McGovern helped persuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to defeat the proposed pact in April 2008. He has likewise tried to cut U.S. military aid to the government of Colombia, aid that was being used to fight against Castro-backed Communist insurgents and narco-terrorists like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
On March 25, 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that the computer hard drive of the recently killed Raúl Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, revealed “an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern … a leading opponent of the [USCFTA].” Adding that “McGovern has been working with an American go-between who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia’s elected and popular government,” the Journal concluded that “some Democrats oppose the Colombia trade deal because they sympathize more with FARC’s terrorists than with a U.S. anti-terror ally.”
On January 27, 2010, McGovern was one of 54 Members of Congress who signed a letter calling on President Obama to use diplomatic pressure to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza—a blockade which had been imposed in order to prevent the importation of weaponry from Iran and Syria.
In November 2010, McGovern and 15 other congressional Democrats met—either personally or through their respective staffers—with three supporters of the Marxist-Leninist Freedom Road Socialist Organization/FightBack (FRSO/FB). Those FRSO/FB supporters, representing the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, expressed their condemnation of “the FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas of people doing international solidarity work and anti-war organizing.” It was reported that McGovern and his 15 colleagues in Congress expressed “genuine concern” about the situation.
In early 2013, McGovern was one of dozens of prominent leftists who urged President Barack Obama to award, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Fred Ross Sr., a Saul Alinsky-trained radical who mentored both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
During a February 2017 House Committee on Agriculture hearing about whether to start limiting or banning junk-food purchases for people using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps, McGovern, referencing President Donald Trump’s penchant for junk food, said: “I Googled Donald Trump’s eating habits. It’s not a pretty picture. Maybe we ought to begin with a pilot project for limiting unhealthy food at the White House, because we all pay for that. The taxpayers pay for that.”
In 2018, McGovern was one of a number of congressional Democrat office-holders who pushed for the abolition of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. he was joined by Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Nydia Velazquez, Raul Grijalva, and Adriano Espaillat. “We need to start a fresh conversation, said McGovern in a post to his website. “If there are elements that work, we can maintain and strengthen those aspects. Otherwise, we need to thoroughly reevaluate and re-think immigration enforcement.”
In November 2018, McGovern, Nancy Pelosi, and Ilhan Omar proposed that the 181-year-old ban on the wearing of religious headgear on the House floor be terminated, so as to accommodate the two newly elected Muslim women members of the House, Rashida Tlaib and the aforementioned Ilhan Omar. McGovern and his fellow Democrats argued that the rule change would help “restore inclusion and diversity” to the Congress.
During a December 17, 2019 hearing, McGovern, in his role as House Rules Committee Chairman, said that if Democrats did not impeach President Donald Trump, then the country would move towards becoming a dictatorship wherein the president can “act like the law doesn’t apply to him.” “It’s no secret that President Trump has a penchant for cozying up to notorious dictators,” the congressman elaborated. “He’s complimented Vladimir Putin. Congratulated Rodrigo Duterte. Lauded President Erdogan. Fell in love with Kim Jong-Un. I can go on and on and on, and maybe the President is jealous that they can do whatever they want. Now it’s up to us to decide whether the United States is still a nation where no one is above the law or whether America is allowed to become a land run by those who act more like kings or queens, as if the law doesn’t apply to them.”
In early January 2021, McGovern and fellow Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi — in an effort to “honor all gender identities” — introduced a resolution that would require Members of Congress to reference a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, or in-law as “parent, child, sibling, spouse, or parent-in-law.” The stated purpose of this resolution was to change “pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender-neutral [and to] remov[e] references to gender, as appropriate, to ensure we are inclusive of all Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioners and their families – including those who are nonbinary.”
For an overview of McGovern’s voting record on a number of key issues during the course of his legislative career, click here.