April 22, 1947

In their little known first series of debates, JFK and Richard Nixon both US Congressmen, Navy veterans, and friends, meet in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a town about 15 miles from Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers.

The debate was held at the Penn McKee hotel in front of a Junto forum (a type of discussion group) called by the local silver-haired Democractic Congressman at the urging of the local Chamber of Commerce. The topic of the debate was the pending Taft-Hartley bill, an attempt to rein in Big Labor in post-war America.

As both Jack Kennedy and Dick Nixon were among the most junior members on the House Eduction and Labor Committee, they were drafted to travel to western Pennsylvania to stage the discussion without honoraria.

Not surprisingly, Republican Nixon was in favor of the bill and Kennedy was largely against it, but did support certain provisions of it.

Estimates vary but the crowd was likely between 100 and 150 people. Reports amongst biographers vary as to whether the crowd was pro-Kennedy or pro-Nixon. Some reports have it that there were catcalls from the crowd but Nixon remembers it as “very friendly and gentlemanly.”

Kennedy himself on a return visit to the city in October of 1962 to campaign in the midterm elections said during a speech given at City Hall,

“The first time I came to this city was in 1947, when Mr. Richard Nixon and I engaged in our first debate. He won that one, and we went onto other things.”

After the debate, the two Congressman went to the Star Diner to eat hamburgers and talk baseball, before grabbing the midnight Capital Unlimited back to Washington, D.C.

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