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Rep. Ro Khanna on “Chaos” in House as Shutdown Nears, UAW Strike & Murder of Canadian Sikh Leader

StorySeptember 22, 2023
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Fears are growing of another U.S. government shutdown as soon as October 1, with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy unable to overcome opposition from far-right lawmakers in his own party to pass spending measures to keep the government funded. For more on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, we speak with Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California, who says the chaos of a shutdown will hurt many ordinary people as federal workers go unpaid and public services suffer. “McCarthy has just failed to do the most basic function of a speaker of the House: keep the government open and functioning.” Khanna also discusses the UAW strike against the Big Three automakers and growing tension between Canada and India over the alleged assassination of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil by Indian agents.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to Congress and the shutdown showdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has accused right-wing extremists in the House of wanting to, quote, “burn the whole place down,” after a handful of Republican hard-liners rebelled and blocked a Pentagon spending bill. It’s become increasingly likely the federal government will shut down October 1st, because fighting within the Republican caucus has prevented McCarthy from being able to pass any spending bills. On Thursday, McCarthy sent lawmakers home for an extended weekend. This is House Speaker McCarthy talking to reporters Thursday after the latest setback.

SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: It’s frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate. And then you’ve got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill. This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. That doesn’t work.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now from the Cannon Rotunda in Washington, D.C., by Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna to talk about the possible shutdown, as well as the UAW strike and other issues.

Congressmember, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, what does this shutdown mean if it were to happen? And talk about whether you think House Speaker McCarthy is going to lose his position as speaker.

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, it’s chaos here. The sad thing is, it has a real impact on Americans. If you need a Social Security check or you need something from the government, now it’s a 35-minute wait time; it could be hours’ wait time to get anyone, if the government shuts down. Our military would not get paid if we cannot pass a defense appropriation bill. Millions of workers in the federal government wouldn’t get paid. Now, they may get back pay, but if someone is living on $50,000, $60,000, how are they going to pay rent? How are they going to pay mortgage? So, it is highly irresponsible.

Just this morning, we finally have one Republican, Mike Lawler, saying that he may side with Democrats, sign a discharge petition to get the government funded. If we can get five or six reasonable Republicans to do that, we can avert this crisis. But McCarthy has just failed to do the most basic function of a speaker of the House: keep the government open and functioning.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean when the government shuts down? Explain who gets affected right off, October 1st.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, all the federal workers get affected. As I pointed out, military personnel would not be paid. You would not get pay if you’re a federal employee. This will impact the level of services that people get at the parks. It’ll impact the level of services they get if you need a Social Security check or you need a government assistance for anything. It will impact our immigration services. At a time where the Republicans are screaming, saying that we are not processing immigration cases fast enough, this would slow that down. So it would just be a total self-inflicted injury that would make life much harder for ordinary Americans, particularly for people who serve in our military or in the federal government in any way.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the military. You also have what’s going on in the Senate right now with the Alabama former football coach, now senator, Tuberville, stopping the confirmation of top military officials. Explain how that works, and coupling with the surprise that House Republican members are no longer supporting funding the military.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, look, to the extent that there are some House Republicans who are against the bloated Pentagon budget of a trillion dollars, I welcome that. I mean, I interviewed or questioned Lockheed Martin’s CEO about 40% profits on the Patriot system, and we definitely need accountability and strategic cuts in the defense contractor profits. The problem is, you can’t just stop funding our military and stop paying the troops. And that’s what the extreme Republicans are for.

And you can’t do what Senator Tuberville is doing, which is hold up the appointment of senior military leaders and officials. That is hurting the morale of the military. And if there were ever a conflict, it hurts our readiness. It’s highly irresponsible. And to my knowledge, no senator has ever done that before, holding up senior military appointments. It shows the need for systematic reform of the United States Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, let’s talk about the historic United Auto Workers strike, which just marked a week since some, well, close to 13,000 auto workers walked off the job. Ahead of the strike, you co-authored an op-ed in The Guardian with UAW President Shawn Fain, where you wrote, quote, “The climate crisis and income inequality are the two greatest challenges facing our generation. … This is a pivotal moment for the American economy and the workers that make it run. Corporations are pushing hard to use this moment to expand their power. We’re mobilizing for a new model that puts working people, climate justice and human rights before profit,” you and the UAW President Shawn Fain wrote. If you can talk about this and President — former President Trump now heading to Detroit? He’s attacking the UAW leadership but saying he’s supporting the workers, but going to try to drive a sort of wedge around the issue of electric vehicles and saying this kind of climate change approach will make workers lose jobs.

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, Shawn Fain is an American hero. He is not just speaking out for UAW, he’s speaking out for what the working class has wanted for the last four decades. That’s what I heard on the picket lines when I was out with UAW members in Wayne, Michigan, and in Toledo, Ohio. I mean, what Shawn is saying is these CEOs are making $30 million, 300-to-1 the median worker wage. That is up from 20-to-1 in the 1960s. These Big Three auto companies are making $21 billion in profits. They are taking that money and putting $5 billion in buying their own stock to enrich their shareholders. And yet, for workers, many of them are not whole from the cuts they had in 2008, where they voluntarily agreed to reduce their salaries because of the Great Recession. They still have not been made whole for that. It is wrong. It’s a symptom of the gross income inequality in this country. And Shawn Fain is finally standing up to it. He’s going to win. There is no two sides to this. They should agree to the increases that Shawn Fain wants. In many cases, that’s just going to bring people up to the 2008 levels if they’re temporary or part-time workers.

And I believe Donald Trump is just demagoguing the issue. His view that we should not have electric vehicles means that all those electric vehicles would be produced in China. Of course we want to make sure that those electric vehicles are produced in the United States, not in China, and we want to make sure that those jobs are good union jobs. That’s what Shawn Fain and UAW are fighting for.

AMY GOODMAN: Hakeem Jeffries walked the picket line. Do you think President Biden should? What do you feel about your colleague, Congressmember Debbie Dingell, who represents the Ford — the workers at the Ford plant that is on strike, saying that Biden should keep his distance?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I thought Hakeem did a great job, and Katherine Clark, coming out. I’d like to see other members of Congress go out to the picket line. It would be good for President Biden to come out either to a union hall — he could go out to UAW Local 900 — or to a picket line. I know the logistics are hard. I think what Congresswoman Debbie Dingell meant is that the president and his team shouldn’t intervene in the negotiations. The UAW has the upper hand. We should strengthen that hand and side with them, and not try to preempt their negotiation in having a deal that doesn’t get what the workers really need.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, you serve as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Can you talk about this growing dispute between Canada and India, after the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused Narendra Modi and the Indian government of assassinating a Canadian Sikh leader, shot dead outside his temple in June. A Canadian official has told AP Trudeau’s claim was based in part on surveillance of Indian diplomats inside Canada collected by Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. Can you respond to the allegation against Modi?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, they’re, of course, very serious allegations. And I echo what Jake Sullivan and our State Department have said, that the United States needs to cooperate in a transparent investigation. And we expect a transparent investigation, and then whoever the perpetrators are to be brought to justice. But there has to be full transparency, and there has to be all the facts that come out. And obviously, they’re very serious allegations. And I do think that Jake Sullivan and the State Department—

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.

REP. RO KHANNA: — are taking it seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: But, California Congressmember Ro Khanna, we thank you so much. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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