After two nights of Democratic National Convention programming that has featured boldface Republican crossovers such as former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, California Rep. Ro Khanna tells Yahoo News that his party should be doing more to highlight its own rising progressive stars and less to celebrate conservatives who “got us into wars.”
“All of this star power in the new generation — [Democrats should] showcase them, because they can connect so effortlessly with young progressives [and] with communities of color [and] help get that turnout,” says Khanna, 43, a progressive congressman from Silicon Valley who co-chaired Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign and now co-chairs California’s delegation to the convention. “I don't think we have fully deployed all of our talent yet.”
Among those Khanna wants to see more of? He mentions Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who spoke for a minute and a half on Tuesday — seconding Sen. Bernie Sanders nomination, as a formality — and several others who didn’t get to speak at all: Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Missouri congressional candidate Cori Bush and New York congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib are all in their first terms.
As for Kasich, Powell, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the late Arizona Sen. John McCain — all of whom supported the Iraq War and were featured in prerecorded paeans to the bipartisan appeal of Democratic nominee Joe Biden — Khanna isn’t convinced.
“I think it's fine to include Republicans, but let's include Republicans who believe in ending endless wars,” he says. “I mean, the question is: What does our platform stand for?”
Khanna himself is viewed as a current progressive leader and possible future candidate for higher office. Asked whether, if Kamala Harris wins the vice presidency, he is open to being appointed to fill her U.S. Senate seat — a role he’s been mentioned for — Khanna acknowledges that “of course” he “would keep every opportunity open to serve and to be able to further the ideas I believe in.”
Khanna has become something of an emissary between the Democratic Party’s young, emboldened progressive wing and the mainstream embodied by the 77-year-old Biden.
This week, for instance, Khanna made news by voting no on the party’s platform because it doesn’t include Medicare for All. Yet he tells Yahoo News that if Biden’s plan to add a public option to Obamacare ever comes up for a vote in the House, he will vote yes.
“It’s not that I don’t support — Joe Biden’s plan is better than the status quo,” Khanna explains. “But I don't think that that's the aspiration of the Democratic Party. We have an aspiration that says we are for extending Medicare until everyone is covered.” He envisions gradually lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to “55, 45, 35 and then everyone else.”
Likewise, Khanna is urging his fellow Sanders supporters not to stay home or to vote for a third party in November.
“If you have a Donald Trump presidency, where he gets to appoint two or three more Supreme Court justices, we may not have Medicare for All for a generation,” Khanna says. “Even if we got a progressive president in 2024 and swept the House and the Senate, and we passed it, the Supreme Court likely would strike it down — a very conservative court.”
He adds that it’s the same with “so many issues that we care about.” “Just for the sake of preserving the possibility of progressive change,” he says, “we can’t afford four more years of Donald Trump.”
Khanna isn’t buying the line of the left that Harris is “a cop,” either — or at least he’s not buying the line that the former prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general is still too cautious on issues of racial and criminal justice.
“What I know is, in the Senate, she has been a leader on issues of racial justice and criminal justice reform,” Khanna says. “And that to me is what's relevant. I mean, I don't know the details of her entire record, but you can find something people dislike if you look at any politician's entire career. And then what matters is: What do you stand for now, and how have you been in your current role?”
Khanna hopes Harris can push Biden to the left.
“I am hoping she will articulate a progressive vision for the country,” Khanna says. “The hope is that she will see where the energy of the party is.”
On a personal note, Khanna, whose parents were both Punjabi immigrants, sees the nomination of Harris, the daughter of an Indian-American, Shyamala Gopalan, as a source of “great pride.” (Meanwhile, Harris’s father, Donald, is Black and originally from Jamaica.)
“The entire South Asian diaspora is incredibly proud of [Harris] and understands what an achievement this is,” he says. “I think she's breaking ground. I read somewhere that her Secret Service code name is ‘Pioneer.’ I think that's very appropriate.”
According to CNN, that is her code name, and Harris chose it herself.
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