In the first episode of On the Trail, Aziz Haniffa speaks to Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th district. In the wide-ranging interview, the Silicon Valley congressman talks about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, economy, midterm prospects for the Democrats and his new book, among other topics. Watch the interview.
Indian American lawmaker says India’s neutral stance makes it harder for those working to strengthen US India ties
Lamenting India’s neutral stance over Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ro Khanna, Indian American lawmaker from Silicon Valley, wants New Delhi to clearly pick sides with a free enterprise democracy over Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship.
“I think my position is supported by most Indian Americans. They believe and understand what I do,” he told the American Bazaar in an interview in Sunnyvale last week when asked about ‘Hindutva’ community’s ire over his faulting India on this and some human rights issues.
“It’s the United States that will come to India’s defense and did come to India’s defense when China invaded the line of control recently,” Khanna said. “So Putin’s not going to be there for India, the US will.”
“We have to strengthen the relationship,” he said. “We have to have the defense relationship even more strengthened so that they’re not reliant on arms from Putin, but that they are more building and buying from the United States.”
“And most people in Silicon Valley at least want to strengthen the US India relationship,” Khanna said. “Want to see them clearly pick sides with a free enterprise democracy as opposed to dictatorship which is what Putin is.”
Read: Indian American lawmakers condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine (February 25, 2022)
“I guess no one can sort of you know question your loyalty to India and the Indian American community,” said the vice chair of the US-India caucus, who will soon be the chair.
“I have supported things like having India on the UN Security Council seat, having India and US defense ties be similar to NATO ties,” Khanna pointed out.
But “those things become harder when India abstains,” he said. “It becomes harder for those of us who are working to strengthen the US India relationship.”
Noting that there is a bipartisan consensus that they are appalled by India abstentions on UN Security Council vote over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Khanna said, it makes it all the much harder.
“And it is something that I hope India will still consider,” he said. “I mean look we’re not even asking them yet for to impose sanctions or to stop their defense.”
“But to refuse to condemn Putin’s bombing of mothers and children in Ukraine, how can you look at what’s happening and not say that’s wrong, that’s immoral, that’s unconscionable, and vote with the world in condemning it,” Khanna said.
One of the few lawmakers who regularly visits with his constituents and holds regular town halls with them, Khanna says he does so to hear what’s on voters minds, what’s affecting the local community and keep in touch with the community.
“Once a month I hold a formal town hall,” he said. “We’ve been doing it online with a pandemic and otherwise it was in a high school gym and you hear what’s on voters’ minds.”
“Are they concerned about gas prices. Are they concerned about grocery prices. What is it that’s affecting the local community. Are the schools open. Is there an issue with homelessness. So it keeps you in touch with the community.”
Asked how confident he was about his re-election in November in a tough year for the Democrats, Khanna said not only was he confident of his own victory, but also believed Democrats would do better than expected.
“Look, we’ve had record job creation, economic growth. The President (Joe Biden) has steered us out of a huge huge crisis with Covid,” he said. “I think we’re going to do better than people expect.”
“I think we’re going to win seats back in California,” Khanna said noting the “redistricting maps have been good for us and the President’s leadership on Ukraine has been strong. So I think, we’re gonna defy expectations.”
Asked if he expected to have a Republican challenger or any primary Democrats thinking of running against him, Khanna said, “I’ve now got good strong support in the community. You never take anything for granted but we’re now rooted very deeply in the community.”
Vice chair of the Progressive caucus in the House led by fellow Indian American Pramila Jayapal, Khanna saw no justification for the caucus being blamed for getting too far left leading to President’s agenda being affected, specifically with regard to Build Back America.
Read: Ami Bera asks India not to buy discounted Russian oil (March 17, 2022)
“Not at all. I mean the Progressive Caucus has been behind the President’s agenda. I am a pragmatic progressive,” he said.
“I have been working closely with Senator (Joe) Manchin,” Khanna said to find out what can be the compromise. “There are things we can do and I’m willing to compromise.”
Asked about the message of his new book, “Dignity in a Digital World,” Khanna noted with Silicon Valley’s trillion dollar companies like Apple, Google, Intel, Yahoo, Cisco, and LinkedIn, “we’re moving to a world where we’re going to have million digital jobs more than manufacturing construction combined.”
“My message is we’ve got to have these jobs and opportunities in the midwest, in the south, in rural America, black and brown communities,” he said. “We can’t have all the wealth generation of a modern economy in Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York, San Francisco.”
“If the jobs were more distributed housing prices would come down here. There’d be a relief on housing and traffic and you’d see other areas that do need the investment flourish,” Khanna said.
“And you would have greater cross work joint work between Silicon Valley rural communities, black communities so that we start to stitch this country back together.”
Asked if he was going to continue arguing for what he argues in his book in view of some pushback from some of the biggest backers of his campaign in the internet world, Khanna said, “I’m a technology optimist and that’s why many of them support me.”
The lawmaker said he was talking at Apple and Google about these ideas. “So they still invite me to share the ideas and many of them are open to the distribution of jobs, to the distribution opportunity.”
Some of them haven’t liked some of his positions on antitrust or his calling out social media where they’ve incited violence, Khanna acknowledged.
Read: Indian American Daleep Singh leads US sanctions against Russia (February 23, 2022)
“So of course there are disagreements, but that goes to my independence. I don’t take a dime of PAC money, lobbyist money and it’s all individual contributions,” he said.
“And I still would argue I have the most support of tech leaders probably in the country of any other politician because they like my forward vision” Khanna asserted.
On his regular appearances on pro Republican Fox News, Khanna said he did so because a lot of even Democrats watch Fox News and a lot of independents watch Fox News.
“I will never compromise my positions. I will always say here’s what I believe, here’s why I believe it, but even if I’m influencing to see the world differently to say hey he’s a reasonable guy that’s doing my part to try to build support,” he said asking, “What’s the point of just talking to your own echo chamber?”
“I don’t change what I’m saying on Fox, but by going on files at least I’m making a case for my policies.”
Asked if he was disappointed with Tulsi Gabbard, former Democratic House member from Hawai, criticizing Democrats on Fox News, Khanna said, “I would just say it’s her right to speak in the first amendment.”
“But I disagree strongly with her refusal to clearly unambiguously condemn Putin and make it clear the blame here is on Putin.”
“It’s an unprovoked war. It’s a horrific war. It’s a human rights violation and that should be the consensus across the spectrum,” Khanna said. “So to the extent that she hasn’t done that I disagree.”
“The Ukrainian fight against Russia is a totally justified war they’re fighting for their sovereignty and I think we ought to be supporting the Ukrainian people with money in arms in that fight,” he added.
On whether he was laser focused on getting re-elected for his fourth House term in November or he had other aspirations with the likely retirement of California senator Dianne Feinstein, Khanna said, “Right now I’m laser focused in terms of my re-election.”
“I represent arguably the most important place in the world. I mean, think about the heart of Silicon Valley — Apple, Google, Intel, Yahoo, Cisco, Linkedin, Tesla,” he said.
“It’s so important that we have the distribution of these job opportunities that we understand how to create high-tech manufacturing jobs across America that we regulate these platforms in important ways and I’m having a profound impact on that.”
“I have a platform that I would argue is as big as a senator’s,” Khanna said. “Now do I take a look at some point on something else. Of course every politician wants to have the biggest impact, but right now for the next few years I’m very focused on Congress.”