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RSN: Norman Solomon Interview With Ro Khanna
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=48990"><span class="small">Norman Solomon, Reader Supported News</span></a>   
Sunday, 26 July 2020 11:14

Excerpt: "The most important thing – I believe – is taking back the White House in November. While I obviously supported Bernie and will continue to fight for progressive policies that have been championed by him, I have seen the former Vice President make genuine efforts to reach out to the progressives of the party and engage with them to hear their input."

California Congressman and Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Ro Khanna. (photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
California Congressman and Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Ro Khanna. (photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

RSN: Norman Solomon Interview With Ro Khanna

By Norman Solomon, Reader Supported News

26 July 20

Norman Solomon recently interviewed Congressman Ro Khanna for Reader Supported News:

: After three and a half years in the House, you’re widely seen as one of the leading progressives in Congress. How did that happen?

Ro Khanna: Firstly, I appreciate it. These progressive policies aren’t new. Look at Harry Truman, who ran on Medicare for All and won. What we’re seeing is a new generation of younger voters who are becoming more politically engaged in their communities because they are fed up with the way things have become. Senator Sanders managed to speak to their frustrations with the status quo in 2016. As co-chair of his campaign, I was proud to speak about the progressive policies that will move this country forward. 

Q: As the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, how would you assess the strength of commitments to bedrock progressive principles among House Democrats?

Ro Khanna: We’re seeing the members in the Progressive Caucus grow, and more members within the party are joining in on our commitments to those principles. The progressive caucus got 93 votes – the most so far – against a bloated NDAA budget that ought to have reallocated money to other investments that create jobs like infrastructure and public health. Senator Sanders’ campaign also showed that more voters are embracing progressive policies, and members are starting to respond to those changes by casting more progressive votes and introducing progressive legislation. 

Q: Is it true that you don’t accept PAC money? And is it accurate to say that very few members of Congress refuse to take PAC donations?

Ro Khanna: That’s right. I pride myself on running a grassroots campaign without taking a dime from PACs or special interest groups. During my first term, I started the No PAC Caucus and have backed efforts to get dark money out of politics. Large corporations shouldn’t be allowed to pour large sums of money into political campaigns. Lobbyists and special interests shouldn’t dictate the actions of elected representatives. It should be the voice of the people that guides the decisions made in Congress. 

Q: Of course progressives widely and deeply understand the need to defeat Donald Trump – but at the same time, there’s enormous discontent with the kind of politics that Joe Biden represents. How do you see the Biden campaign and a prospective Biden presidency?

Ro Khanna: The most important thing – I believe – is taking back the White House in November. While I obviously supported Bernie and will continue to fight for progressive policies that have been championed by him, I have seen the former Vice President make genuine efforts to reach out to the progressives of the party and engage with them to hear their input. VP Biden knows that the only way he’ll be able to beat Donald Trump is by bringing the party together, and he has been working to do so. Let’s be clear about one thing, though. Progressives will not stop pushing for things like affordable housing, Medicare for All, and free college education regardless of whoever is in the Oval Office. 

Q: How would you assess the defeat of 16-term congressman Eliot Engel? And how might his disappearance as chair of the Committee affect what could be accomplished in the House?

Ro Khanna: I think it’s another example of what we’ve been seeing since Bernie Sanders ran for President in 2016. Voters are fundamentally shifting to more progressive candidates. I believe that the Foreign Affairs Committee will now take a more progressive foreign policy approach in the coming years. More members are starting to understand that foreign policy does not have to include conflict. Ultimately, the way business is done and the way conflicts play out between nations has changed dramatically in the past three decades. It’s time to have members not only on the committee but in Congress as a whole who understand the changes the world has undergone recently and who know how to position the United States to adapt to those changes so that we may still be a leader on the global stage. 

Q: What has it been like for you to be on the House Armed Services Committee?

Ro Khanna: Serving on the Armed Services Committee has been quite interesting. As Silicon Valley’s representative to Congress, I’m always looking for ways to bring Silicon Valley innovation to our armed services, particularly on the cybersecurity front. The NDAA first comes out of that committee before going to the full floor. Unfortunately, even with a Democratic majority in the House, our military budget has continued to grow larger and more bloated every year. I have continually pushed back against increasing the defense budget and will fight to instead invest money in social programs that move this country forward. 

Q: The terrible Saudi-led war on Yemen has continued with U.S. support, while you’ve been a congressional leader in efforts to stop it. How would you describe the current U.S. role – and what should constituents be urging their representatives and senators to do about it?

Ro Khanna: The United States has been giving logistical support and aid to the Saudi forces, which then kill innocent Yemeni citizens. There is support in Congress to end U.S. involvement with the Saud-led coalition in Yemen, and the very first War Powers Resolution was passed. This led to the Administration voluntarily suspending the refueling of Saudi planes and gave UN Envoy Griffiths a lot more leverage to bring peace to the region. Ultimately, the biggest factor in ending our involvement in Yemen is by taking back the White House in November. 

Q: What can you tell us about the extent of militaristic thinking among your colleagues in Congress?

Ro Khanna: Ultimately, there is a wide range of views in Congress regarding the United States’ role in foreign intervention. There are still those who hold hawkish views, but after being in the Middle East for so long, the tides are turning against an interventionist approach, like we saw with the War Powers Resolutions that were passed. More members of Congress understand that instead of pouring our resources into never-ending conflicts, we ought to be investing in our people here at home. Look at what happened at the beginning of the year when the president unilaterally launched an airstrike on an Iranian general. The rebuke from Congress was swift, and there is a growing consensus that the executive branch has expanded its unilateral military authority over the past two decades, in direct contrast to what the founders envisioned when they stated unequivocally that only Congress, and not the President has the authority to declare war. Many members saw the political blowback from their vote regarding the Iraq War, and Americans are tired of being drawn into endless conflicts. 

Q: What is the current status of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 – and what would you like to see happen to it? 

Ro Khanna: Both the House and Senate passed their versions of it, and now leadership needs to iron out a final bill. I’m glad that the bill mandates the Pentagon to rename military bases that are currently named after Confederate leaders. I also worked to include text barring funds appropriated for the military from being used against the Houthis in Yemen. Ultimately though, progressives weren’t able to garner enough votes to reallocate 10 percent of the budget toward domestic priorities like healthcare, the COVID response, and education. Though we got more than 90 votes, the military-industrial complex was once again able to influence members into voting for a bloated military budget. I’ve continually called for limiting our military budget and have voted against increasing military spending. We can’t keep pouring money into our military when there are glaring domestic issues that need to be addressed first. Our defense spending has grown in the last three years, while Flint still doesn’t have clean water, rural communities don’t have access to broadband, and working families are struggling to pay their bills during a pandemic. 

Q: Given the balance of power in Congress, what do you think the Democratic leadership should be doing in the midst of the pandemic emergency?

Ro Khanna: I think we need to listen to the experts and understand that this is not something that will go away just because we’re tired of being at home. Calling for all kids to be put back into schools is reckless and dangerous, and we’ve seen the disastrous fallout in states that reopened too soon without proper planning. We need to expand our testing capacity as well as be vigilant in our efforts to stop the spread of this virus. The desire to reopen in order to jumpstart our economy is noble, but we can’t put human lives on the line to accomplish that. Additionally, we have to protect our frontline workers, which is why I introduced an Essential Workers Bill of Rights with Senator [Elizabeth] Warren, as well as the Emergency Money for the People Act, which would give working families $2,000 a month for up to 12 months. 

Q: As the pandemic rages on, what are the short-term prospects for suitably gearing up the U.S. healthcare system in response? And how could this ongoing catastrophe affect possibilities for longer-term solutions like Medicare for All?

Ro Khanna: Firstly, we need to do everything we can to slow the spread. It’s frustrating to be confined in our homes, but if we are not diligent in slowing the spread of this virus, our healthcare system will be overrun once again. This pandemic has proven that if the government wants to subsidize healthcare, they can. I think this pandemic has shown a greater urgency for high quality, affordable healthcare. Nobody should be forced to risk their health because they could not afford healthcare. In both the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, Congress waived the costs for testing and allocated money to cover the cost of treatment for uninsured patients. That simply demonstrates to me that the opposition for Medicare for All comes more from the health insurance industry than the voters. More people are starting to understand that Medicare for All is needed to stop the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. Affordable healthcare is a basic human right, and this pandemic has shown the importance of having an affordable, accessible healthcare system. 

Q: Overall, how would you describe the responses to proposals for a Green New Deal from members of Congress as well as from your own constituents?

Ro Khanna: Well unfortunately we still have a handful of climate-change deniers in the halls of Congress, but the science is clear: we must change our ways to stop global warming. The overwhelming response from my constituents is in support of adopting the Green New Deal quickly to stem the effects of climate change. Countries like China are winning the Green Race. I wrote an op-ed with former secretary of state John Kerry outlining our need to embrace clean energy. It’s the only way to move our country forward, from an environmental standpoint and an economic standpoint, and to address racial inequality in our country.

Q: As somebody who was one of the national co-chairs of the Bernie 2020 campaign, what would you say to people who are disheartened that the campaign fell short and now feel discouraged about prospects for turning the Democratic Party into a genuinely progressive force?

Ro Khanna: Don’t stop. We see you and we hear you. Your hard work is already beginning to yield results. In the elections since 2016, we’ve seen more progressive candidates enter Congress, and the Progressive Caucus is only going to grow. People are genuinely dissatisfied with the status quo and have demonstrated their desire for a set of fundamental changes in our country today. These policies that have been labeled as progressive are nothing new. Truman ran on Medicare for All and affordable education for all. If he could be elected president in the 1940s with those policies, there’s no reason we can’t finish enacting those policies today, and our numbers will continue to grow larger in the years to come.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 26 July 2020 11:47