LONDON — President Biden plans to appoint Joe Kennedy III, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and a scion of the nation’s most famous Irish American political family, as his special envoy to Northern Ireland, two people with knowledge of the White House’s plans said on Friday.
The White House’s announcement, which could come as early as Monday, would fill a post that has been vacant since the departure of Mick Mulvaney, a former acting chief of staff to President Donald J. Trump, in 2021.
The White House is calculating that Mr. Kennedy, 42, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy who was once viewed as the family’s next political star, will bring a marquee name to the job of drumming up business for Northern Ireland, which has long struggled to shake off the legacy of sectarian violence known as the Troubles.
But Mr. Kennedy will not have the broad mandate of some of his predecessors, one person said, limiting his focus to economic development and investment promotion rather than thornier political or trade issues. The United States has sent special envoys to the North since the early 1990s, a legacy of its efforts to try to bring peace to a strife-torn land that looms large for many Americans.
The narrower job description, this person said, partly reflected the uncertain moment in Northern Ireland. Britain and the European Union are locked in a standoff over the complex trade arrangements that govern the North, which is a member of the United Kingdom but shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, part of the E.U.’s single market.
The Biden Presidency
Here’s where the president stands after the midterm elections.
Northern Ireland has also been without a functioning assembly since elections last May, when the main unionist party, the Democratic Unionists, refused to enter a power-sharing government with the main nationalist party, Sinn Fein, which had emerged from the vote as the largest party in the territory.
Next April will mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Mr. Biden has pressed Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to hammer out a compromise on trade with Brussels before that milestone.
British officials say the tenor of their dialogue with the European Union has improved since Mr. Sunak replaced Liz Truss as prime minister in October. But important substantive differences remain, not least whether the European Court of Justice will continue to have jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. The unionists also continue to express bitterness about the handling of trade issues.
With so much still in dispute, some experts on Northern Ireland questioned the wisdom of naming someone from a political family closely associated with Irish causes. But the White House is being pressed by the calendar: Under a new law, effective in January, most presidential special envoys will have to be confirmed by the Senate — a process that could delay Mr. Kennedy’s appointment by months.
The planning for this appointment has been underway for months, a person with knowledge of the White House’s deliberations said. The Biden administration had held off on an announcement in the hopes that London and Brussels would work out a compromise on trade in the North.
The White House believes that Mr. Kennedy’s name would draw attention and excitement to Northern Ireland, this person said. Some envoys, like George J. Mitchell and Richard N. Haass, thrust themselves into the most sensitive political disputes between unionists and nationalists. Mr. Mitchell played a critical role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement, which Mr. Biden prizes as a major legacy of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Kennedy also once embodied his party’s hopes. But his political trajectory was interrupted in 2020 when he lost a primary challenge to Sen. Edward Markey, the Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts. Since leaving office, Mr. Kennedy has worked as a community organizer and as a commentator on CNN.