Khanna says without Pelosi, House Democratic leadership would move to the right

Rep. Ro Khanna, rebutting some progressives who criticized him recently for supporting Nancy Pelosi‘s continued service as House minority leader, said without her the leadership position would move to the right.

“Who would we have if Nancy Pelosi wasn’t minority leader? Next in line would be [Reps.] Steny Hoyer and Joe Crowley,” said Khanna during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday in Fremont.

“My point is the caucus would move to the right. Find me a progressive person. If [Rep.] Keith Ellison said tomorrow I want to be minority leader and we need a bigger progressive voice, I would entertain that. But what I don’t want to do is have the caucus move to the right.”

“So all these people who want Nancy’s scalp ought to answer how that would move the caucus in a more progressive direction?” said Khanna. “She is our quarterback and I don’t believe you change quarterbacks halfway through a season. If in the future we have a strong progressive emerge like Keith Ellison, [Rep.] Mark Pocan in Wisconsin, I’d be open to it.”

Khanna, back home in the district for the August recess, also described his support for legislation recently introduced by Sen. Cory Booker to legalize cannabis on the federal level, details of his No PAC Caucus and disavowing Silicon Valley giant Peter Thiel, a donor last year to Khanna’s congressional campaign.

Booker’s cannabis legalization bill is “long overdue,” said Khanna. “Cory and all of us in Congress are just following the grassroots. People have been saying we shouldn’t have this war of drugs. We need to legalize and decriminalize marijuana.”

“We have prisons filled with people who have violations on the use of marijuana and that’s not a smart way to spend our resources. You can’t get a job with a criminal records. And so, I’m not advocating the use of it, it ought to be regulated heavily and parents ought to be concerned about the health consequences. But from a policy perspective, we shouldn’t have law enforcement locking up people and destroying their future because they have marijuana.”

Last month, Khanna created a congressional caucus compromised of members who eschew taking contributions from political action committees. They group is growing, said Khanna, and hopefully will soon include two Republicans. However, he hasn’t reached out to some of his Bay Area colleagues in Congress, like Reps. Barbara Lee and Eric Swalwell. “I’m not because I don’t want to embarrass people. The point of this is not to be for embarrassing colleagues. The point is to say the new ones are not taking it and momentum for the new people.”

During last year’s election, Khanna expressed a strong desire to become one of the most progressive members in Congress. In terms of campaign promises, Khanna’s early rhetoric in support of numerous progressive causes has been largely met. But in the true blue East Bay skeptics are still without holding judgment.

“They’ve been very fair to me,” he said of local progressives. “Part of it is I engage. On Twitter, they’ll say, ‘Ro, you took money from this individual’ and I’ll say, ‘Yes, I did, but here’s my votes and here’s where I’m not the perfect candidate, but here’s my record on Medicare for all.”

A large part of the wariness among East Bay progressives was Khanna’s acceptance last year of Thiel. It worsened when Thiel spoke in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

“I viewed it as a matter of principle,” he said of his decision not to cut ties last year with Thiel. “We don’t return money unless someone has a criminal record and we don’t have a litmus test on ideology. I strongly, strongly disagree with Peter Thiel on women, on issues of freedom of press. But on the one hand, I’m the seventh most progressive member of Congress out of 435 on my voting record. And I’m also working across the aisle, too. So, I’ve always been iconoclastic, someone who doesn’t fit into a mold, who is a little bit unconventional.”

Locally, Khanna also expressed support for the Fremont’s recently decision to expand its city council from five members to seven, starting in November 2018. He added the council was probably too small for a city of more than 230,000 people.

He also defected a tongue-in-cheek question about running for president one day, suggesting America might not be ready for a non-Christian and son of immigrant parent as leader of the free world. “I hate to break it to you, I’m of Hindu faith and an Indian American,” Khanna joked.

In an apparent reference to Swalwell, Khanna’s congressional neighbor to the north, and someone rumored to be interested in higher office, he quipped, “I take trips to Sunnyvale. I’m not the one taking trips to Iowa. We’ve got other Californian’s doing that.”