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“The Priorities Are Wrong”: Rep. Ro Khanna Says He Won’t Vote to Override Trump Veto on Defense Bill

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Congress is set to override President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, the $740 billion annual defense policy bill that funds the U.S. military. Trump vetoed the legislation last week over objections to liability protections for social media companies and because he did not want to rename military bases currently named for Confederate generals. Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna says Trump’s reasons for vetoing the bill are “disingenuous,” but that he will not be voting to override the veto. “The bottom line is $740 billion is way too much defense spending,” says Khanna. “The priorities are wrong.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to a tweet you sent out earlier this month. You wrote, “If you vote for a bloated $740 billion defense budget, which [is] over 50% of our discretionary budget, or the Trump $1.6 trillion tax cut, please save us the lectures about deficits. You have no credibility.” In addition to voting on the $2,000 checks to go out, both houses of Congress are expected to overturn Trump’s veto of the NDAA. Can you explain what this is all about?

REP. RO KHANNA: It’s very simple. Trump has vetoed the defense bill, which would be $740 billion. Now, his reasons for vetoing it are disingenuous. He wants to strip tech companies of Section 230 protections, which, if you strip them of that, would really hurt speech on the internet. This is not some thoughtful reform.

But the bottom line is, $740 billion is way too much defense spending. We’re spending money on aircrafts. We’re spending money on the modernization of nuclear weapons. And we can’t find money to get food in to people who need it? We can’t find money to get more rental assistance for folks who are going to face evictions? We can’t find money to get $2,000 into the pockets of Americans?

The priorities are wrong, and so I’m not going to vote to override his veto. There’s almost a crisis in Washington, where everyone’s flying back in because they don’t want something to happen where we don’t pass the defense budget at this bloated level. But my view is, let’s really ask why we are spending so much money on defense when we have such other needs of national security.

One other point, Amy: The NIH actually has the ability to have universal viral detectors, to have antiviral treatments. Why aren’t we funding that, those programs, instead of buying more aircraft carriers?

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of this military bill, that you say you will break from the Democrats in voting to override, the Trump administration has formally notified Congress it intends to authorize the sale of nearly a half-billion dollars’ worth of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the weapons could be used on civilians in Yemen. In 2019, Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Congressmember Ro Khanna, you have continually championed the issue of peace in Yemen and the stopping of U.S.-backed Saudi-UAE war on the people of Yemen. Can you comment on what that means, what you’re going to do about it, and the fact you recently told The Washington Post Biden should immediately reverse course if this deal goes through?

REP. RO KHANNA: President-elect Biden must reverse course. And I am convinced he will. I think Tony Blinken, his secretary of state designee, understands the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and wants to make sure that we bring it to an end.

The first thing we need to do is stop supplying the Saudis not just with weapons, but also with any logistical support, intelligence support, that they can use to increase their offensive in Yemen. And we need to support Martin Griffiths at the U.N., who’s been doing a terrific job in bringing the parties together.

So, this is a last-ditch effort from Trump to reward the Saudis. He’s had a pro-Saudi policy for four years. It’s unfortunately led to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world. But that is going to end January 20th. I have confidence, actually, in Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan. They understand the depths of this crisis, and they will work with Congress to help bring it to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about COVID. You represent California in Congress. COVID is raging across the country, with cases now topping 19 million, over a third of a million deaths. One in every thousand Americans has now died of COVID-19. December, the deadliest month in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, as experts warn things will likely get worse with post-holiday season travel leading to new spikes. Your state, California, becoming the first state to top 2 million cases last week, as hospitals in Southern California are reporting just a handful to no ICU beds available. Congressman Ro Khanna, can you talk about what is happening now and what needs to happen?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s tragic. It’s unprecedented, unfathomable. I mean, we’re losing over 3,000 Americans a day. I would say there are four things that need to happen.

First, new leadership needs to set a new tone about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing. It’s not just legislation. Leadership matters. I think President Biden will do that.

Second, we need an efficient and fair distribution system of the vaccines. That remains our best bet.

Third, we need to continue to invest in testing and contact tracing. That still isn’t happening in many parts of the country.

And finally, we need massive investment in making sure people have healthcare. There are people, you know, who are paying $200 for tests. In fact, I had to pay — I had my family tested. It cost $200 for each test. Now, we can get it reimbursed by insurance, and some insurance does, some doesn’t. We need to make sure that the testing and the healthcare related to COVID is free, so that we can actually incentivize people to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think the issue of Medicare for All will play, when you have COVID, that has really exposed the racial economic disparities when it comes to healthcare, particularly that — you know, who has access, who doesn’t? This goes to issues from vaccine access to test access to mask access. How you, a proponent of Medicare for All, can lead a new Congress and a Democratic administration, which, frankly, President Biden has said he will veto Medicare for All — do you think you could change that, given what so many people in this country have understood?

REP. RO KHANNA: I do. Medicare for All now has become a moral imperative. Here is the thing, Amy. In this country’s history when we have had past crises, we usually respond with bold legislation. When there was the Depression, we responded with bold legislation on the economy. When we had civil rights movement and Dr. King, we responded with civil rights legislation.

We have now just had the greatest healthcare crisis, arguably, in the last hundred years. It has exposed that people who don’t have healthcare are having worse outcomes, are facing either death or facing higher risk of illness. It should be obvious that the solution is to have people have healthcare coverage from the day they are born. That is what Medicare for All is.

We need to have a vote in the House of Representatives on Medicare for All. We need to continue to advocate for it. And we have to build consensus for it. Now, people say, “Well, the votes aren’t there. The Senate votes aren’t there.” If Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson had thought that way, they would have never gotten anything done. LBJ could have just said, “Well, the Southern votes aren’t there. Let’s never pass civil rights.” That is not imaginative leadership. The challenge is for us to build a consensus and the votes. And if we’re not going to do it in this crisis, then when?

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressmember from California. He represents Silicon Valley, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Next up, we look at how dozens of immigrant women detained by ICE at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia have joined a class-action lawsuit against ICE over allegations they were either forcibly sterilized or subjected to nonconsensual, invasive gynecological procedures. We’ll go inside Irwin to speak with a woman who alleges this and to Jamaica, the country of Jamaica, where another woman was deported after her surgery. Stay with us.

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