Breitbart News recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna in California’s 17th congressional district. Khanna is challenging eight-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA). In this interview, Khanna elaborates on his political platform and discusses his take on the H-1B visa program, gentrification, taxes and national security.
Which committee do you see yourself serving on if you were to win this next election?
Energy and Commerce, because I served in the Commerce Department, and it has a huge impact on Silicon Valley. On issues of trade, on issues of intellectual property, on issues of the prospect of entrepreneurship and I think given my background, given the book I’ve written, and given my experience, that would be a natural fit for the district.
Silicon Valley is seen as paving the path to the future in many ways. At the local level have you been involved with addressing the issue of gentrification in the Bay Area?
I have been. I’ve been on the board of Faith in Action, which is a great group of 17 churches that come together to provide housing for homeless men. And many of these men are not people we would traditionally think of as being homeless. They are former engineers, former chefs. But the rents are crazy. The housing is crazy. So we need to, as a society, think of how we can build more housing and public transportation in both the 17th District and more broadly throughout the Bay Area. We need to have more dense housing near public transportation so that people are able to live near the areas they work in.
And we need to have more public-private partnerships with faith institutions, which is what Faith in Action does to help people get back on their feet, get careers, have the skills to be able to have a decent living given all the pressures of the cost of living and all the rising housing prices.
I know your opponent Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) has had a lot of backing from labor unions. One of the labor unions recently endorsed you over him. What’s your opinion on labor in general and do you see them as being a large portion of support for your campaign for Congress, considering they have contributed to a significant portion of Honda’s success?
I think labor plays a very strong role in America’s economy. They’ve helped provide basic protection for workers. They’ve helped fight for strong middle class wages. They’ve help make sure that jobs stay in the United States and that they don’t get outsourced.
I was really honored to have the endorsement of the construction workers, who flipped from Mike Honda and really think that they’re part of my coalition. Now, I’m going to be independent-minded on issues and really build a broad coalition and reach across the aisle. But obviously I’m very proud that we have the support of the construction worker union LiUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), Pacific Southwest Region).
They’ve been supporting Mike Honda for 30 years so for them to switch, I think they see the writing on the wall.
The ethics scandal has seemed to deliver a major blow to Rep. Honda. Do you think it calls into question his eight terms in Congress and points to a bigger problem?
What really rubbed people the wrong way, even in the labor movement, about the ethics is that there’s evidence and testimony that he was giving special favors to people that were giving him money. And that they were put at the head of the line to get expedited constituent services.
People want somebody who is going to represent the community, represent everybody. Not represent folks who are giving money to their campaigns.
Several other California politicians have faced similar humiliation for allegedly engaging in pay-to-play politics. Three of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s former campaign staffers were recently charged on several counts as was former Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee for political corruption and money laundering.
I’ve read that.
Would you sign a pledge not to engage in similar activity? And how would you avoid falling into the same trap that other politicians have fallen into, regardless of political party affiliation?
Well, I don’t take any PAC money. I’m one of the few [campaigns] in the country, I think, to do that. And I’ve signed a pledge not to take any PAC or lobbyist money when I get to Congress for the rest of my career. And I am going to have the highest integrity and ethics standards. If anyone violates any standards on my step, they will be fired the next day. There’s got to be accountability and you’re there with the people’s trust. So I will have the highest ethics and standards when I get there.
Labor unions could be seen as a kind of PAC.
Yes. They are. And I don’t take any money from labor unions. Even though they endorsed me I didn’t take any money. That makes me independent-minded. A lot of Democrats take money from special interests. I don’t take money from corporations, I don’t take money from labor unions and I don’t take money from any political action committees, even if I agree with their views. I don’t take money from any advocacy groups like the NRA or Sierra Club. I only take money only from people. And that’s going to make me very different and unique in being an independent voice when I get to Congress.
I took a pledge, as a candidate and when I get to Congress, not to have any PAC money or lobbyist money.
Do you think Mike Honda would ever sign a pledge like that?
No. Most of his funding comes from PACs and lobbyists, as it does for most people in Congress. And that’s really what we need to change.
You’ve mentioned working across the aisle as one of your strong suits if you were to be elected to Congress.
My approach in Congress is going to be to look for allies, work across the aisle. Of course, I’m going to disagree with people on the other side of the aisle. And there are issues where I will stand up for my beliefs. But I’m going to go there with an open mind and a willingness to compromise and not imputing someone’s motives just because they happen to be a Republican. And I think that’s the mindset we need: where we can respect difference, work across the aisle, collaborate, compromise and still be proud of our party affiliations.
Mike Honda’s been calling me a Trump Democrat, which is ridiculous. I mean, I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. But I’m not going to go demonize the other side. I’m going to go stand up for my values and look about putting the country first.
Are there certain issues in the Democratic Party that you disagree with?
Sure. I’ve been much more independent-minded on supporting charter schools. I’ve had a different view on expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and making that a priority because that will not incentive companies to automate and I think it will help figure out ways to help the working poor. And we really ought to be prioritizing spending the earned income tax credit.
Are you in favor of raising taxes at a higher bracket, like the rest of the Democratic Party?
I do think that we need to raise taxes on the wealthy.
What do you think of Donald Trump’s tax plan? Have you looked into it at all?
I’ll study the plans in detail one day when the Republican side has a nominee. Until then, I’m busy putting my own ideas out there. But my focus will be how to help the working class, the working poor and the middle class. They’re the ones that are getting squeezed by globalization and by automation.
What’s your view on the proposed $15 minimum wage hike?
I’m for increasing minimum wage because I think that puts upward pressure on wages going up even for the middle class. And I think the distribution of income, where people at the very top are making 200 to 300 times more than entry-level employees or middle managers, is wrong.
So I’m supportive of increasing the minimum wage. And I’m also supportive of increasing the earned income tax credit. In Congress, I would look to trying to get a coalition to support either idea.
There have been reports and examples of small businesses being forced to fire many of their workers, or even close down, as a result of raising the minimum wage. Are you worried that this will result in more people being laid off from their jobs?
There’s always a trade off. You can’t raise it by $100. But I think at $15 businesses would be able to absorb it, it would motivate people more to work hard, I don’t think you would see mass-scale layoffs or shut downs, and I think you need to expand access to capital for small business and simplify some of the permitting and the bureaucracy that they have to deal with. And if we did that, I think that the minimum wage would be a permanent one.
Rep. Mike Honda has spoken about his Japanese-American heritage. Please elaborate on your Indian-American background.
I’m very proud of my Indian-American heritage and roots. My grandfathers spent four years in India in jail during the Indian Independence movement and that was an inspiration to me. And it’s similar to the American founding values, so I think India’s culture, its emphasis on faith, its emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship makes it a natural ally with the United States and I’m very proud of that heritage.
Regarding the H-1B visa program, as it relates to workers from India and other countries and specifically regarding the tech sector and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs, are you in favor of expanding it? I know presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is seeking to triple the number of H-1B visas in America.
Has Rubio done that? That’s wrong. I think the problem with that is, we have to focus on developing our talent in STEM jobs here. And my concern with the H-1B program is it’s often abused. People come here and they’re paid below market wages and there’s all this leverage with employers and that’s depriving Americans of jobs and that’s depriving Americans of fair market value. And so I’d much rather not rely on a bandaid of H-1B visas to solve our tech crunch, but we have to provide more funding and training in community colleges and colleges and high schools here so we’re graduating computer scientists and technology leaders. And so that we are creating these opportunities for people in this country.
Sen. Jeff Sessions has been seen as championing legislation against the Gang of Eight bill and seeking to maintain the caps on H-1B visas to make sure that they don’t disadvantage our own American workers. Would you then say you agree with him in that regard?
I support comprehensive immigration so I probably disagree with him there. But on H-1B visas, I think we can’t just be expanding them without reforming that programing and making sure American workers are first and that we are creating American workers.
Being an Indian-American and speaking openly about the H-1B visa program concerns is something that I feel resonates with both Democrats and Republicans. And I feel I’m a good voice for that because I’m not seen as biased. We have to develop the talent here and developing the workers here. Not just importing workers at a lower wage.
Do you plan on partnering with India on any programs?
I think on issues of national security and dealing with terrorism, that Israel, the United States and India would benefit from partnering on counter-terrorism strategies.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.