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Rep. Ro Khanna pressures Biden on minimum wage, air strikes

March 1, 2021
In The News

Rep. Ro Khanna has built a brand as a progressive who will take positions even if they are at odds with establishment Democrats. Just over a month into the administration, he is making that clear to President Biden.

In recent days, Khanna has publicly broken twice with Biden on key progressive priorities. Last week, he sharply criticized Biden for conducting air strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria. On Monday, Khanna helped organize pressure from House Democrats who want Biden to use the party’s congressional majority to pass a $15 federal minimum wage over a procedural setback, which Biden has said he won’t do.

Both moves create a potential headache for Biden, who is trying to move an agenda through a zero-margin-of-error majority in Washington. Biden campaigned as a moderate seeking bipartisanship, but has also worked to keep the support of progressives he will need to enact his priorities.

But it remains unclear how far Khanna will take the pressure campaign, and whether he and other progressives will consider tanking Democratic bills to send a message to Biden.

For now, Khanna told The Chronicle that he will support Biden’s coronavirus relief bill even if it doesn’t raise the minimum wage, and said he supports the vast majority of Biden’s agenda.

“That said, there are lines on fundamental issues of dignity and of fundamental issues of human rights and justice where we have to take a stand,” he said.

Khanna said last week that Biden’s air strike had “absolutely no justification,” and on Monday he told The Chronicle that it was unconstitutional and illegal.

Also Monday, he helped organize a letter urging Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s decision that raising the minimum wage was not eligible for a procedure that allows coronavirus relief to bypass the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation in the 100-member Senate. He and some of the 22 other signatories, including Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, held a news conference arguing that raising the wage was necessary to boost racial justice as well as economic equality. The wage is already scheduled to increase to $15 an hour in California in 2023.

“This is our moment to deliver, to do something that is moral and just,” Khanna said. “We can’t let a parliamentarian decision stop a wage increase for Americans.”

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later Monday that using Harris to overrule the parliamentarian is “not an action we intend to take,” though Biden was committed to finding another way to raise the wage.

Khanna said though he and his colleagues intend to vote for the stimulus bill even without the wage increase, Biden’s actions could set the tone for future efforts to push progressive policies.

“A lot of it will be determined from this response from this letter,” Khanna said. “If the response is constructive, I’m hopeful it will allow us to continue to play this very constructive role. ... But if the channels of communication aren’t being constructive, I think you’re going to have more and more pressure from the advocacy groups and from progressive groups to take a tougher line.”