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Ro Khanna says Trump's policies have been great for his district but not rural America

September 3, 2020
In The News

With the election around the corner, the Washington Examiner spoke with self-avowed “progressive capitalist” Rep. Ro Khanna of California regarding the key differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic and tech policy during this campaign.

Khanna represents Silicon Valley, home to tech companies, such as Apple, Intel, and Yahoo, and the only majority-Asian district in the United States outside of Hawaii. The second-term Democratic congressman was co-chairman of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and served as the deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011.

The 43-year-old son of Indian immigrants, Khanna studied economics at the University of Chicago and attended Yale Law School before eventually teaching at Stanford and Santa Clara University. He has two children with his wife, Ritu.

Washington Examiner: I wanted to get a sense of how you see the Democrats' economic messaging in the coming weeks before the election and how it differs from what Republicans are focusing on or proposing.

Ro Khanna: We need to talk about the rural communities, communities left behind like small-town America, minority communities, and say that Trump hasn't delivered. Look, Trump's policies have been fantastic for the tech companies in my district. The S&P 500 growth — 90% of it over the last five years is fueled by six tech companies. And Trump's tax policies and his economic policies have benefited tech shareholders, tech executives, and it's benefited banks on Wall Street, but what has it done for making sure that rural America has the jobs that he had promised? What has it done for the small communities, small towns to retain their way of life? The Democrats are going to have an industrial policy where we're going to actually make investments in jobs, in communities that have been left behind. The Democrats are going to stand for a massive infusion of infrastructure funding so that we can rebuild our communities. The Democrats are going to stand for a pay raise for working families as opposed to tax cuts for the very, very top.

Washington Examiner: On the topic of infrastructure spending, that's an area where Trump has promised to follow through, and that's a big part of his big agenda. Do you see some overlap there?

Khanna: But he's had four years. He's had four years. What has he done? We will get it done in the first hundred days. We'll have an industrial policy where we actually invest in creating a critical supply of manufacturing in the United States. We'll actually have an infrastructure bill done in the first hundred days that will actually fund new technology jobs across this country and fund land grant universities that have apprenticeship programs and create new jobs. Trump's view has been that deregulation and tax cuts are going to help bring back small-town America, they’re going to help bring back rural America, they’re going to help bring back minority communities, and the reality is, that’s not sufficient. His actions have helped the coasts, it has helped Wall Street, it has helped the companies in Silicon Valley, but it hasn't helped create jobs in communities that have been left behind.

Washington Examiner: And why do you think he has not been able to pass infrastructure spending?

Khanna: Because of McConnell. They don't want to pay for it. Trump says $2 trillion. We also say $2 trillion. Then it goes to McConnell, and McConnell says, "I don't want to pay for it."

Washington Examiner: But wouldn’t infrastructure benefit him and his state and his constituents?

Khanna: Yes, but he has this ideological opposition to government investment and an ideological commitment to just lower taxes. And that's the philosophical debate. It really is, to be honest. If you are to put the Republican argument in the best spirit, the question is, "Do you believe that you can bring back communities left behind, that you can bring new prosperity to these communities simply through policies of tax cuts and deregulation? Or do you believe that you actually need government investment in infrastructure, government investment in apprenticeships, government investment in land grant universities, government investments to rebuild America?"

And the Democrats believe that you actually need to invest money in targeted, place-based policies. That we can't just allow for the free market to have tax cuts and deregulation because a lot of that is going to lead to the concentration of wealth on the coasts and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few shareholders and executives, that has left out the vast part of America.

Washington Examiner: What do you say to those within the Trump administration that say pre-pandemic, everything was skyrocketing and moving in the right direction, poverty was historically low, income and wages were going up all across the board, minority communities were better off, that by all objective metrics, everyone was prospering and moving in a better direction before the pandemic, and that was under his watch.

Khanna: I think a lot of that wealth was so concentrated in terms of the geographies. I don't think it was distributed across communities left behind, and I think the disproportionate amount of benefit went to those at the top. Now, could you argue that there was a marginal improvement? Yes. But that improvement was not nearly the share that workers deserved, communities deserved, after stagnation of wages for almost 30 or 40 years. So, we need far more directed efforts to have workers get what they deserve.

Washington Examiner: Regarding tech policy, what do you make of claims from Republicans that there is a lot of bias and censorship of conservative voices and conservative ideas within the world of social media, that this is a big issue?

Khanna: I would say that these platforms should have transparency in their algorithms so that people can see for themselves that the biases are there. So, I think greater transparency, and I also think this is where my view comes in that if these companies had a broader distribution of where their jobs were, then they wouldn't be seen as just coastal companies, and if more people were participating in the platform creation, that would help.