- Ro KhannaDemocratic congressmember from California.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris are set to take power, after a projected more than 150 million ballots were cast in the 2020 election. A debate is growing over the future of the Democratic Party as progressive lawmakers push back on Biden’s centrist policy proposals and consideration of Republicans for Cabinet positions. Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California says progressive policies, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, have popular support. “The policies that we are advocating are not just for deeply blue districts,” Khanna says. “They are policies that will help people in the Midwest, in the South, across this country.”
More from this Interview
- Part 1: The End of Trump? Biden & Harris Claim Victory in Historic Election, Vowing to Heal Divided Nation
- Part 2: Ro Khanna: Progressives Helped Biden Win. We Can’t Stop Push for Green New Deal & Medicare for All
- Part 3: Bree Newsome & Prof. Eddie Glaude: The Black Lives Matter Movement Helped the Democrats Defeat Trump
AMY GOODMAN: As President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are preparing to assume office, a debate is growing over the direction of the Democratic Party. I mean, this just exploded this weekend. Biden’s transition team reportedly is considering former Ohio Governor John Kasich, a lifelong Republican, for a Cabinet position. On Saturday, Kasich spoke on CNN.
JOHN KASICH: The best thing that’s happened to Joe Biden is the fact that the United States Senate is either going to be Republican or very close. … And the far left can push him as hard as they want. And frankly, the Democrats have to make it clear to the far left that they almost cost him this election. … And that congresswoman from Virginia warned the Democrats, “You want to talk about defunding the police? You’ll have no support.” … One other thing: One Democrat told me, at some point, if they had been more clear in rejecting the hard left, they would have appealed more to Americans who, I believe, essentially, live in the middle. … So I think, actually, he’s in a better position today because being pulled from the left isn’t going to work. They will not get those things done.
AMY GOODMAN: That Democratic congresswoman from Virginia he was referring to is Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, who told fellow Democratic lawmakers on a phone call last week that, quote, “No one should say 'defund the police' ever again,” unquote.
Progressive lawmakers are pushing back. In an interview with The New York Times, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, quote, “Progressive policies do not hurt candidates. Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green new Deal was not a sinker,” unquote. On Sunday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: There are, at least in the House caucus, very deep divisions within the party, and I believe that we need to really come together and not allow Republican narratives to tear us apart. You know, as you mentioned, we have a slimmer Democratic majority. It’s going to be more important than ever for us to work together and not fight each other. And so, when we kind of come out swinging, not 48 hours after Tuesday, when we don’t even have solid data yet, pointing fingers and telling each other what to do, it deepens the division in the party, and it’s irresponsible. It’s irresponsible to pour gasoline on these already very delicate tensions in the party. So, we can help. It’s not saying that every member has to campaign as a progressive in a traditional progressive way, but it’s to say that we have assets to offer the party that the party has not yet, you know, fully leaned into or exploited.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is your sister congressmember, Ro Khanna. If you can respond to this? I mean, this was an onslaught attack on the progressive wing, though the progressive wing, which you are certainly very much a part of, is pushing back. And it really determines what happens with the Biden-Harris administration as the Cabinet is chosen. Can you talk about this Kasich-Spanberger-Clyburn attack on progressives, as progressives say, “No, we’re the reason Harris and Biden won”?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, let’s start with some facts. The Fox News exit polls showed that, overwhelmingly, Medicare for All, government-provided health insurance, was popular with the American people. Florida, the same state which we lost in the presidential, voted for a $15 minimum wage, so, obviously, increased working wages is popular with the America people. Overwhelmingly, people showed a transition to a green economy, clean tech jobs, is popular with the American people. Free public college is popular with the American people. So the policies that we are advocating are not just for deeply blue districts. They are policies that will help people in the Midwest, in the South, across this country.
Second, John Kasich talking about how the debt is our biggest issue. Where was John Kasich during the tax cuts? Where was John Kasich for the last four years? And where was John Kasich in listening to the inadequate stimulus response in 2008 that prolonged the recovery? So we know that the worst mistake we can make is to have inadequate government spending. That’s not a matter of politics. That’s a matter of making sure that we don’t sink into a worse recession, and actually get out of our economic mess.
And the final point I’ll say is, look, if the question is, “Are we a messy democracy with divisions across this country?” absolutely. And I think progressives understand that we have to still do a better job of going into communities which we haven’t won and building public trust. But that should be the spirit of the conversation, as opposed to attacking particular members or a particular wing of the party.
AMY GOODMAN: And this could determine who is in that bubble, that inner circle, the Cabinet of the Biden-Harris administration, is who prevails here. The more establishment wing is saying, “Do not raise this once again until the Georgia runoff happens in January.” Your thoughts on this? But as you’re saying, these are actually popular policies.
REP. RO KHANNA: They’re popular policies, and they’re the correct policies. I mean, go look at what Paul Krugman is saying. Go look at what Christina Romer was saying. There are many causes for Donald Trump, but one of the causes was that the recovery was too slow and uneven, and that was because it was too small a stimulus. And you had people like Rahm Emanuel back then saying the stimulus of $700 billion was enough. It turned out it was half as much. We need to have bold policies and can’t have austerity politics, or we’re going to be in a world of hurt.
The second thing is, I believe we have to take the fight to the Senate. We have to have bold policies that are popular, and make it very clear that Mitch McConnell either has to do what the American people want or he is the person standing in the way. And if we are accommodationists and incrementalists and aren’t taking a bold agenda in the fight to the Senate, then we’re going to let down a lot of people, and we’re not going to be on the side of progress. I also think it’s bad politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of the Senate, now that Kamala Harris becomes vice president of the United States, her seat becomes vacant as junior senator of California. There are a number of names of those that are being talked about — Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee. Your name has also come up. If Gavin Newsom chose you, would you accept that?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I’d certainly be open to it, but I think what’s more important as that he chooses a progressive, that he chooses someone who’s for Medicare for All, that he chooses someone who’s for police accountability and doesn’t run from that issue, that he chooses someone who’s going to end the filibuster once we have a Senate majority, that he chooses someone who’s really going to push for systemic reform. California’s senator should be a bold progressive. And some of the names you mentioned are — I mean, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters and Karen Bass. Some of the people being considered are not. And I think that’s the fight.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you on the conference call on Thursday where the Democrats really went at it, the Democratic congressmember, where Abigail Spanberger spoke and was extremely angry, basically blaming those — blaming the loss of Democratic congressmembers’ seats — I think at last count it was seven, though they of course retained the majority — on progressives? Were you there? Did you speak up?
REP. RO KHANNA: I did, and I did speak up. It was a three-hour call. First of all, the call was a day or two after the election. Emotions are raw. I think some of it has been overhyped. I mean, people are, obviously, right after an election, especially in close elections, going to speak out.
But secondly, I didn’t view it as as negative as all the coverage. We have a very, very divided country. We are trying to do something very, very difficult. Abigail Spanberger’s district is very different than Rashida Tlaib’s district, is very different than Vicente González’s district or my district. And the fact that we have this kind of diversity in the caucus and aren’t just on boilerplate talking points, frankly, is a good thing in helping us construct a common narrative.
Now, the question is: Are we going to just be fighting with each other, or are we going to have some common ground? I believe we have the opportunity of a common agenda. My view is that ought to be starting with jobs, higher wages, healthcare, education for everyone. I think that’s something that cuts across the ideological spectrum.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of foreign policy, Congressmember Khanna — I know you have to go, but I wanted to ask you about Yemen, a country —
REP. RO KHANNA: Yes, please.
AMY GOODMAN: — you have long championed. In our headlines today, the latest headlines, the watchdog — our latest headlines say that, you know, Yemen is falling into a massive crisis of hunger, on top of dealing with COVID-19.
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, thank you, Amy, for raising this. As you know, that Senator Sanders and I had a War Powers Resolution that passed the House, that passed the Senate, and that President Trump vetoed. It would have provided that we get totally out of the war in Yemen, provide no logistical support to the Saudis. I have talked to folks, and I believe that’s something we should do right in January and have President Biden sign that War Powers Resolution. He has indicated a willingness to do that. That would be an incredible signal. It would give Martin Griffiths a lot more leverage to bring this war to an end.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I just want to ask you very quickly, and then we’re going to go back to our other guests, as you leave —
REP. RO KHANNA: Please, please, go ahead. I have some time. It’s fine.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, about this headline now in New York magazine, “Police Reform Is Probably Dead Under Biden.” And then I’m going to get response from our other two guests, from Eddie Glaude and Bree Newsome Bass.
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I think that would mistake morally and politically. Let me talk about the political one first, and I look forward to what your other guests have to say. I don’t believe Joe Biden would have been president if it weren’t for the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd. Look at the turnout in Philadelphia, in Atlanta, in Milwaukee. I mean, Donald Trump had high turnout; we had even higher turnout. That started because of the Black Lives Matter movement. That started because of these people organizing. So, to blame the Black Lives Matter movement or activists, when, in my view, those are the — that is the mobilization that put Biden into the White House, is just flat-out wrong. I mean, I don’t see where the data — what data they’re looking at.
And look, Vice President Biden, President-elect Biden, has said that he understands he owes this election to the African American community, who came out and voted. I don’t see how he turns his back on them without getting real, substantive reform. I mean, I just think it would be unconscionable. At the very least, we should get the Senate and the president to pass the reform that the House has already passed about holding officers accountable and having force be a last resort.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Congressmember Ro Khanna of California, again, one of the names that is being put forward as a possible replacement for Kamala Harris, now that she ascends to the vice presidency at the end of January. We’re also talking to professor Eddie Glaude of Princeton University and Bree Newsome Bass, a well-known antiracist activist who scaled that flagpole in South Carolina and took down the Confederate flag. We’ll continue with them in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: “The President Sang Amazing Grace” performed by Kronos Quartet and Meklit of Stanford University. The song recalls President Obama’s eulogy for the Charleston church shooting victims and pays homage to the moment President Obama sang “Amazing Grace” during the funeral of the South Carolina state senator and pastor Clemente Pinckney, who was also killed during the massacre.