SILICON VALLEY CONGRESSMAN RO KHANNA ON RECODE DECODE
On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, the Congressman Ro Khanna came by the studio to speak with Kara and Recode’s Senior Editor for Policy and Politics, Tony Romm. The conversation ranged from Silicon Valley’s responsibility toward American citizens to job creation and job loss due to technological advances.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. Today in the red chair is Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District. Representative Khanna is a Democrat who took office in January after defeating the incumbent Mike Honda, another Democrat, last November. He previously served under President Obama in the U.S. Department of Commerce and the White House Business Council. Congratulations, Representative Khanna, and welcome to Recode Decode.
Ro Khanna: Thanks. I’m a fan of the podcast.
KS: Thank you. Do we have to call you sir or what?
Ro is good.
KS: Ro is good. All right, thank you. I was going to do that anyway, but I will call you Representative Khanna every now and that. Welcome, too, to Tony Romm, Recode’s senior editor of policy and politics, who’s come here from Washington D.C. and New York where he covers all kinds of things for Recode.
Tony Romm: Hey Kara.
KS: Thanks for coming by.
TR: Yeah, thanks for having me.
KS: You came east from Washington and New York.
TR: I did, I did, but I got to spend some time in Sonoma before I came here.
KS: Well, it’s better in California, in case you’re interested.
Ro, let’s start off a little bit about your winning. What happened and how you were backed by tech? I think people think that’s a good and bad thing, right, like the tech people love you. I hear a lot of praise from a lot of the tech leaders about you.
It was obviously an honor to have a lot of their support, but I lost the first time, as you remember, and I think part of the reason I lost is that there wasn’t a sufficient sensitivity even in my own district to people who had been left behind or participating. That was the big change, and I grew as a candidate and really talked about not only the benefits of technology but some of the challenges with how we get more people involved in the tech economy, and I think that’s why we won the second time.
KS: And in terms of you had worked previously with the Obama administration, had been in politics. Give your background a little, for people who don’t know.
My parents were immigrants, they came in the 1960s. My dad was a chemical engineer. My mom was a school teacher. I was born in Philadelphia. I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I went to public school. My grandfather was my inspiration in politics. He had served four years in jail during Gandhi’s independence movement and when I was young and visited, he would tell stories of that and that gave me an interest in just the impact that politics had.
Then I went to Chicago for college and Obama was a professor there. He was running for the state Senate. Coincidentally, I had knocked on some doors for his campaign and then I moved out to the Bay Area after law school and when he won, the coincidence of having worked on his first campaign and some of the work I’ve been doing led to going and serving in his administration.
KS: Mm-hmm. What did you do there precisely?
I was involved in overseeing our domestic offices for manufacturing and helping exports. We would work with some small- and medium-sized manufacturers and help them get access to foreign markets. We’d see what they needed to succeed in a global economy, how they could be more competitive, how they could sell more of their products abroad.
TR: And speaking of working in government, I want to ask you a little bit about the Trump administration. We’re fast-forwarding a bit from your background here, but you worked in the Commerce Department. What do you think these days when you hear about all these vacancies at major government agencies — like your former employer many years ago.
I think the way of governing is so different than the way of campaigning. I mean, Trump campaigned on bringing manufacturing jobs back. You would think one of the programs that he would care about would be the manufacturing extension partnership in commerce, the whole purpose of the manufacturing extension partnership is to help manufacturers compete in the global economy so that they can bring manufacturing jobs into the United States.
Turns out the Heritage Foundation budget that he is going on cuts the manufacturing extension partnership. It's a $200 million program. I don’t even know if Donald Trump’s aware of it. These programs actually make a difference and if he wants to have any shot of even living up to some of his promises, he needs to understand what’s there in government, what he can improve, what he should fund.
TR: So you were hailed as the voice of Silicon Valley when you were ultimately elected.
I don't know if anyone can be the voice of Silicon Valley.
TR: You're one of them, at the very least.
KS: Well, you represent.
TR: Like it or not, you’re there, so be the voice of Silicon Valley. Right now, what’s the grade you’d give this administration on its approach to science and technology issues?
An F. D-.
KS: D- is an F now.
I mean, he doesn’t believe in climate change. He’s not talking about renewable energy and the jobs that are going to be created. You know ARPA-E, one of the big misconceptions is people think that was in the Obama administration.
TR: ARPA-E, just for folks who maybe don’t know, is the Energy Department’s innovation hub.
Let’s fund cutting edge research on being a leader in renewable energy. President Obama, who I’m very proud of because I worked for him, expanded that program, but that was actually a George W. Bush initiative at the end. The programs that some of the things he’s cutting are programs that have been bipartisan consensus. There’s no sense in what he’s going to do for the jobs of the future. Here someone who made his whole reputation on “The Apprentice,” you would think he would care about apprenticeship programs.
Marc Benioff is out there saying let’s do $5 million, five million apprentice programs, five million apprenticeships across the country. Those are the ideas that you would think he would jump on, but he hasn’t. There’s just been no engagement either on climate change or on what the jobs of the future are going to be or how to prepare folks.
KS: We're going to get to more Trump in a little bit. I do want to get to what you represent because I think one of the things that happened is being anti-Trump is pretty much a thing, but it’s not the thing, it’s what we want to do. When you were running for office, what was your thought of what you should accomplish as the representative from Silicon Valley and from this area?
My thought was that our country is going through a profound transition from an industrial age to a digital age. The gains of that transition had gone to a few people who are creative, brilliant, at the right place at the right time. There are a lot of folks who had been left out in that transition. Erik Brynjolfsson has written a brilliant book, “Race Against the Machine,” about how technology is transforming society and how we need to prepare for that so that the games are more evenly distributed. And I said Silicon Valley needs to answer the call to service, needs to think not just about what’s narrowly in our interest but how it can contribute to making this transition successful for everyone.
KS: When you talk about that idea of transition, it’s not the greatest message for Silicon Valley because I think part of the election was about people who were left behind.
KS: A group of people, there’s a third of the country who loves the future and benefits from it, and some of them quite substantively. There’s a group of people who are in the middle who understand the future and understand it’s important, want to be part of it but are nervous, I think very and unjustifiably nervous about their jobs and there’s a section of the country that just isn’t benefiting, doesn’t like it, isn't part of it and has definitely suffered from it. Those are all in your constituency too. It's not just Kansas or Kentucky, it's also within where you represent. How do you appeal to all those groups? Because you have all those people in your own, I don't want to say rule because you’re not a ruler, but you know what I mean, under your constituency.
Well, one has to be sensitive to what you said, that the gains of technology haven’t just been a benefit for everyone. I was in Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky, in Paintsville, they call that area Silicon Holler.
KS: Holler. I know, they call everything Silicon something.
Which shows the aspiration, right? People still have some aspiration of being affiliated with technology. When John F. Kennedy went to McDowell, West Virginia, in the 1960s, coal miners were chanting at him, “Mr. Kennedy, go to the moon, go to the moon.” So there’s this fascination in our country with technology. People want to participate but they have not often had the opportunities. We have not had ... as you know, venture capital goes to three states: California, Massachusetts, New York.
There’s a lack of access to capital, there hasn’t been that development of the skills in universities. One of the best ideas I’ve heard is, how do we expand universities across this country so that now we don't have company towns, we have university towns. How do we create more energy around and jobs around universities across the country? They haven’t had a chance to reconsider labor markets. Are the skills they’re getting actually employable? Are employees taking a chance on nontraditional places to hire?
But I do want make one case, when I was in Paintsville, that gave me hope and optimism. Folks there said that there is a possibility for technology actually to connect them into the marketplace in a way there hasn’t been before. In the past, they could be coal miners or nurses or doctors, or they were told, “Leave Appalachia.” Well they don’t want to leave Appalachia. I mean, do people here want to go live in Appalachia? No. Will they find the same as offensive to say just go move, go move somewhere else. We don’t want to move. Why would they want to move? They’re very proud of their communities.
They said, well maybe technology is now going to allow us to access work without having to move and maybe not even needing a four-year degree. So I think we have to figure out how can technology be empowering in allowing people to live their aspirations in addition as an alternative narrative to technologies to just taking your jobs and displacing.
KS: When you think about that, why is it Silicon Valley’s job to do that necessarily? Because you don't say, “Oh, Wall Street better get in there and help the coal miners,” or “Hey, Hollywood’s not doing its fair share.” They live in Hollywood. The financiers live in New York. No one’s calling for that.
It’s a great point. First of all, I don’t think Wall Street’s saying, “We’re going to change the world.”
KS: That’s right, because they’re not arrogant and do-gooders. Is it arrogant do-gooders? Yeah, pretty much.
I think part of it is learning the lessons of the Luddite revolution. Luddites get a bad name but Luddites weren’t ...
KS: They deserve a bad name.
Well, but they weren’t just opposed to technology.
KS: They were opposed to looms, right?
No, they were opposed to looms that were ... what they said deceitful and labor conditions. They were opposed to a lack of any sense of concern for their future. It was an economic and political movement as much as ... it wasn’t just an anti-technology movement. A lot of them were actually sophisticated folks who understood the looms.
The question is, do we want to, as a country, have a transition from an industrial to a digital age that’s going to include everyone, or do we want to be divided? My view is people in Silicon Valley have an understanding of some of the transformation that’s taking place and they ought to be part of a political conversation that is helping think about how more people are going to participate.
KS: So be that they’re responsible for that. Something that I’ve been suggesting, you're responsible for some, if you were to say Uber or Tesla or Apple or Google doing self-driving cars and you’re going to eliminate millions of jobs, you are responsible for figuring out what to do about that. Do you think that?
I do. I think you’re responsible as you’re a citizen of this country. I think part of the election was not about people being just afraid of the future, though I agree that’s part of it. I think there was a sense of, do folks care about America first. Do we care about the country? And I think that ultimately we're citizens first. One of the worst things I had read after the election was, “Oh, California should secede.”
KS: Yeah, we’ll get to that.
Or, “Silicon Valley should secede.” I mean, how arrogant. There’s so many people who built America much greater in sacrifice and contributions than Silicon Valley. There are people who died for this country. There are people who marched for civil rights in this country. There are people who marched for women’s suffrage in this country. Just having, coming along and having massive exits doesn’t mean that somehow we built America.
We have helped make a contribution, but we ought to look at all the other people who have answered the call to service. Now there’s a moment in time in our country where they really need the Valley to step up and answer the call to service. It’s about our obligation as citizens, not saying okay, corporations have to do this. They are citizens first. I think that would go a long way.
TR: Just to drill down to that point, do you think that the executives of these Silicon Valley companies recognize their obligations? Are they empathetic to the plight of the factory worker who may or may not lose their job as a result of some of the things we’re talking about now, whether it’s self-driving cars or whatnot?
KS: How do you get them that way, too?
I think the election was a wake-up call. In that sense, I’ve been hearing more and more of that conversation. I was just talking to an executive at Flex, which is in Michigan, and they're hiring 250 folks in Detroit. The software company basically is a cloud computing company that allows manufacturers to be more productive because they allow manufacturers to be on the cloud.
Just-in-time and not just have so much of an IT staff and can hire more folks. That’s an example of a technology that’s helping create jobs in Michigan. So what else can we be doing to think about the talent and the extraordinary innovation that exists outside America. I was interested ... I mean, Jeremy Liew, who you had on your podcast, was talking about how he’s on the flight in going across America. Talent isn’t just concentrated here in Silicon Valley.
TR: So when you look at someone like Mark Zuckerberg who’s been on this not-but-sort-of running for office, whatever, calling his visit to some counties well outside of Silicon Valley.
KS: Have you noticed, there’s also always livestock.
TR: There’s always livestock. There’s always livestock and photos.
KS: We'll get into that later.
TR: It’s a whole operation. But when you look at that, is that an example of a tech executive being empathetic or is that Silicon Valley condescension? Is that saying, “Oh, we’re going to go see how the rest of the world lives and maybe we’ll ...”
KS: We’ll sit in a diner and have coffee with the people.
I’ll tell you, when I went to Appalachia, at the invitation of Congressman Hal Rogers, who has been there for 30 years, who wanted me to come because the coal miners’ kids who were being trained on Apple and iOS software for Google, that was in my district. But one of the things ... I don’t think that somehow, we're going to have to have this as Silicon Valley goes out and saves America will backfire.
I think the bigger issue is how do you get ... the local communities, they want to participate in the future. You could’ve had the same roundtable, I kid you not, in Paintsville, Kentucky, about the transition from an industrial to digital age, how we’re going to take advantage of it. You had educational leaders wanting to participate. You had businesses saying we're going to create jobs. We’re going to create apprenticeship programs that pay. The job of the Valley should be to support these programs, to look at investing in some of these programs, not to say, “Okay, we’re here to tell you what to do,” or, “We’re here to teach you.” It’s going to be more partnership, empathy and an understanding and concern about the country’s future and everyone participating.
KS: Do you see that concern? I was listening to an interview with Sam Altman last night at The Commonwealth Club. He was talking about his trip to visit 100 Trump people. He had to drive to the Midwest, apparently.
There are Trump people in Fremont, he can just ...
KS: I get it, I get it. The moderator said, “Oh, so you got in a self-driving car that’s ruining jobs essentially and drove there to the diner to visit them.” But again, what Tony was saying, how do you get them ... I know the penny has dropped, but what actually can they do and how do you get them to do that as Congressman?
One, they can think more broadly about where talent is in this country and their obligation to consider communities that have been left out of the technology revolution. Let me give you a concrete step — and I’m not singling any one company out as good or bad, but this Google Howard initiative, they're apparently going to have 23 faculty members from historically black colleges spend the summer at Google. That strikes me as a concrete step that's going to not just be like, “Okay, we’re doing something for a photo op,” but, “Okay, we’re going to get folks. We understand there’s a need. We understand that we have to do better.”
KS: In diversity.
In diversity. The diversity question has to be looked at broadly. There are African Americans who are underrepresented, there are women still underrepresented of course. There are Native American communities. I'm the outreach liaison to a Native American community someone told me about in Northwest Washington. My heart almost broke. They said the town there has to stop using the internet when the high school has to take an exam, a state exam, because there’s not enough bandwidth. What is the empathy there? Then to large parts of rural America that they have suffered with the lack of investment, the lack of institutions, of preparing them for the jobs of the future.
I think that a part of it is an empathy. The second part of it is a sense of answering the call of patriotism. It can’t be, “Okay, we’re Silicon Valley, we have succeeded, we’re here to tell you what you need to do with the rest of America.” It’s got to be, “We’re Silicon Valley. We’re so grateful that we live in a country that has allowed us this freedom to, at the age of 35, make $1 billion. This is actually not possible in any other country. By the way, there are a lot of people who died for this country to give us this shot. There are a lot of folks who marched in this country to give us this shot. We are so grateful that we’re taking the 2 percent benefit of the American story, the 98 percent was created by other parts. It’s our time to give something back to this country because we’ve been the beneficiaries of this country.”
KS: But Ro, they created Instagram. Come on.
And so people say, ”Why can’t politics, it takes five years to do a company, why can’t we do that in politics?” I was like, are you kidding? My grandfather spent 30 years in jail against the British. Do you think that was harder than filing a company? Come on, give me a break. Let’s have a sense of perspective. I love the innovation. I love the genius. It’s the political system in the country that’s giving you that shot, so I think it’s just a humility and understanding of the country.
I think that’s what I disagree with everything that Donald Trump almost stands for. That’s what he evoked with Reagan and the sense of American patriotism. Now his definition of American patriotism is a very narrow definition, a very parochial definition. I’d rather we have a more expansive open definition of American patriotism, but we've got to start talking about the country as larger than any one place.
KS: When we get back, we’re going to talk about California issues first and then the federal issues that you're dealing with. There’s a ton of them around privacy, around net neutrality, around what your role is and what you think you represent. Then we really would like to get into how we operate within the Trump parameters. He’s changing faster than anybody I think. The ground is moving around rather quickly, but we want to get to that when we get back. We’re here with Representative Ro Khanna, who represents essentially Silicon Valley.
KS: We’re here with Representative Ro Khanna who is the Congressman who represents the Silicon Valley area and some very wide constituency, but it’s a lot of the biggest tech companies in the world. He is both a creature of tech and also someone that’s got to think about what tech is doing to this country. We’ll get to that later, but right now we want to talk a little bit about concerns of California. So why don’t we start talking about ... you’re not the governor, you’re not a local politician, but you have to be concerned about California itself and what it needs from the federal government.
Can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing in there? Let’s start with the exit, Cal exit. You are against this, obviously, and we obviously don’t have enough guns to do that very well — although there’s a lot of guns in California — but what do you think are the most important issues for California in the federal system right now?
The reason I was so opposed to the exit is ...
KS: Besides it being inane, but go ahead.
I couldn’t imagine a worse response after this election.
KS: Yeah, taking our marbles and going home.
Yeah and a total lack of understanding of how much California’s success is rooted within the larger American experiment and America’s success. But I think there are of course needs that California has. I mean, the Caltrain electrification is a huge need. It would allow for increasing the capacity of Caltrain by 50 percent. We need more public transport in Silicon Valley and it’s being blocked by the Republicans in California in the administration. We need funding for infrastructure in the state. We have needs in terms of our community colleges, expanding our UC system. We haven’t built a new UC for years. How do we make college more affordable? There are a lot of state issues that require both leadership with the governor and legislature and also for the federal government.
KS: What’s your No. 1 thing you’re working on for California itself?
Right now, it’s this Caltrain electrification, because it goes right through my district. It would be catastrophic to lose that funding, which would really help alleviate some of the traffic, help provide greater capacities especially as campuses are expanding. Anna Eshoo has been terrific on the issue as well.
TR: The big fight in Washington just a few short weeks ago was over privacy. The Trump administration has rolled back rules put in place by the Obama administration that would have required an AT&T or a Verizon to get your permission before selling information to advertisers. You voted to keep those rules. Talk a little bit about why you voted that way and why so many Republicans in Congress didn’t share your view and would want to scrap the FCC’s efforts.
To me, it was just basic common sense. If you’re using the internet, you shouldn’t have companies be allowed to use your data and sell that data.
KS: Companies you cannot opt out of.
Companies we cannot opt out of. I mean, obviously, if you give your consent — which is all the rules said in the Obama administration, that you had to affirmatively give your consent to do this — that’s one thing. But people already have such a suspicion of institutions. There’s a suspicion of big government, of bureaucracy, of corporations. Why would you want people who feel already disempowered by the overwhelming forces of the system to think now, okay, now companies can actually take my personal data and profit off it.
It makes absolutely no sense. There are some areas where I can say, okay, Republicans are thinking they have a free market vision or some vision. I really don’t get this, other than that they have internet service providers who are potentially important constituencies, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T.
TR: So you’re a web user right, you watch this vote play out, you’re super unhappy with it, is there any hope at all for any sort of action on Capitol Hill in terms of privacy or is it completely shot dead right now, given the fact that Republicans control Washington?
No, I think there is hope because, as we were talking about before the podcast, there were a number of Republicans who defected. I think if the bill hadn’t been jammed through, if it had taken 30 more days, the online advocacy would have actually made a difference.
TR: Do you think that your peers in Congress know these tech issues well? Do you think that they understand how voters feel about things like privacy? Or do you find that there’s still a great knowledge gap there between what folks in Congress think about Silicon Valley stuff and what you know as somebody who’s lived and breathed in this industry for a bit.
I would say I think it’s getting better. I think there’s a much bigger disconnect. Sometimes I describe being in Congress as like being in Versailles, like all the energy is outside and we’re debating what committee chair resolution on X. The energy of the country is on social media. It’s on podcast. It’s on people protesting and outside town halls. I don't think Congress, I don’t think a lot of folks in Congress get that. They are still so caught up in the inside game of politics. It’s one of the things that Bernie Sanders or whatever, they understood, and I think that’s the bigger issue. How do you connect with where people are now consuming political news?
KS: When you think about that, the idea of what they’re doing or not doing, getting back to the privacy issue, one of the arguments that the telcos and others made was that Google and others are freed up, and they’re not. I think the argument back is that you cannot use Google. A lot of people say they can’t but they can. They certainly can, or you cannot use these different services. How did you answer that? People would say you’re a creature of Google or the companies that benefit.
I said there should be greater protections of privacy with Google. I agree there’s a distinction, but I think we need an Internet Bill of Rights that protects consumers from the ISPs but also from Google and Facebook. It’s not that I think that argument is saying, okay, we need more protection. The answer is, well, let’s just have no protection. If the Republicans say look, we need a bill to equalize this and Google and Facebook should also be subject to these regulations, I would vote yes.
KS: Mm-hmm. Interesting. So let’s move to net neutrality too because that’s the next big thing. Are you going to be involved in that. That’s something that’s very near and dear to the heart of companies that are dead in your district.
I’ve been hugely involved in that. I’ve already criticized some of the initial steps in rolling back, but it’s important to understand why this matters so much. It's not just about freedom of speech on the internet. Even the Republicans now want to compromise.
Senator John Thune would say, “Okay, we get that the internet shouldn’t discriminate. If you’re a Hillary supporter or a Trump supporter, it should have equal access.” The problem is the economic argument. They have no problem allowing incumbents with these big companies to discriminate against other companies from accessing the internet, charging smaller companies more money.
Now if you do that, you’re basically not just stifling innovation but you’re having greater concentration of economic power in the hands of a few. That’s been the problem on Wall Street. It’s been the problem with airlines. It’s been the problem with telecommunication companies. Why would we want the internet to become subject to monopolistic behavior and anticompetitive behavior? It’s a net neutrality. It’s really a pro-competitive, pro-innovation policy. I will make that argument.
TR: Certainly now the FCC is starting to consider its replacement rules. Chairman Ajit Pai has explored a new plan that would essentially make it voluntary. If you’re an internet service provider, you would commit in writing that you’re going to adhere to some of the neutrality principles and if you don’t do that then the feds can slap you for deceiving consumers. Is a voluntary plan really the approach here?
No, absolutely not. We need to keep the internet a place which is going to be accessible to any individual or any company without being charged higher prices or you're going to have people swallowing up smaller companies and smaller companies being kept out.
TR: What do you expect from internet users here? I remember a few years ago we were talking about chairman Tom Wheeler and his open internet order that folks freaked out about online. We even had John Oliver segments blasting him for his approach to net neutrality. What do you expect from web users this time around?
KS: And web companies?
TR: And web companies too.
KS: Because they were aggressive, Reed Hastings, some of them were aggressive.
Well, I’m hoping that there’ll be a similar response out of Silicon Valley on net neutrality that there was on the executive orders on immigration.
KS: We’re going to get to immigration.
There was a vocal strong statement, and I’m hoping that tech leaders would do that. I’m hoping individuals on the web will realize how much influence they have. I’ve said this at town hall, people can often have more influence by sending a clever tweet or putting something on Facebook than I can if I go on the house floor and give a speech on C-SPAN that 500 people watch.
KS: You better start tweeting like the president is doing.
I don’t know, I tweet, but ...
KS: Are you a good tweeter, Ro?
I don’t have your sense of humor.
There’s never been a time where actually a citizen is more empowered in this country. So if they get online and if they mobilize and if they start targeting members of Congress, who are not going to be strong in net neutrality, they can have a huge impact.
KS: Sure. What do you think about Chairman Pai, by the way? What’s your take on him so far as the leader of the FCC?
I think he’s one of the worst picks possible in government. Did you see the Charter decision? I mean it was just ...
TR: Talk a little bit about that.
KS: Yes, explain to people with that is.
It’s appalling. First of all, there are four internet service providers that give most Americans their choice of access to the internet. I don’t know as much about technology and some of the people I represent but I know this much, we invented the internet, we invented a lot of broadband. Why are we paying five times more than people in Europe? It defies common sense.
KS: No, prices are astonishing.
Right, like we invented this stuff and they’re paying less. This is what drives ordinary Americans crazy. The reason is because it’s basically a monopoly here. There are four companies that are providing the service, so Pai has this decision. He says one of these companies, Charter, they can’t provide the service where Comcast is providing the service. They need to provide it somewhere else. Now the justification, he says, is, well, there’s so many communities that don’t have this service. That’s how he kind of justifies this.
The reality is, what he’s doing is basically carving up the map. If you’re an internet service provider, you provide to one region and no competition. The people who suffer the most are actually Trump voters in rural America or people who can ... they’re the ones whose prices go up. They’re the ones who are going to have to think, “Do I subscribe to the internet or not? Do I get fast service?” He has really been just a mouthpiece for telecom companies in one of the most economically concentrated industries in the country.
KS: And to reiterate, the worst, correct?
The worst. It pains me because usually just being Indian American, I have sort of a soft spot for other Indian Americans and naturally we don’t have many folks in government and I thought okay, he seems he has the history. Of course when ...
KS: He went at the opposite direction.
Opposite direction. I knew — not that I have anything against the Queen — but I knew he had a different take when I was tweeting out about my grandfather spending four years with a jail with Gandhi and Ajit Pai was congratulating the Queen in England on her 90-some birthday. So we have different perspectives.
KS: You know what, the gays don’t always like each other. Me and Peter Thiel have a thing that’s not good, so don’t worry about ... you don’t have to ... You can disagree with other Indians. That’s America.
KS: When you think about that, what can be done? They might pack that, the FCC and that’s probably the most important agency for internet companies at this point I’m thinking, it probably is, right?
TR: It’s the most important telecom. It’s the only one, really.
It’s a huge issue, and I think part of the challenge is it hasn’t been in the headlines or the headlines have been understandably about him taking away health care and him putting through or Trump putting through wrong tax policies. So this is kind of going a little bit underneath the radar. My hope is that some of the folks listening to your podcast or others can get online and start making this a much bigger issue. There needs to be — like with SOPA or PIPA — there needs to be an organic ...
KS: Oh PIPA, I miss PIPA.
TR: I do not miss PIPA.
But that was a time where there was organic internet activism. We may need that, and this is where I think folks shouldn’t underestimate their own ability. Silicon Valley really has ...
KS: Well, they did on health care. Not Silicon Valley but the country calling in, doing town halls. In the next segment, I want to talk about town halls, like whether you do them and whether you get yelled at but which — I like anyone yelling at a politician, no matter who they are.
Does that happen later in the episode?
KS: Yeah, I have a group outside so they can come and yell at you, but I do want to get to immigration because you mentioned that. That was something where Silicon Valley initially approached the Trump administration in a prostrate position.
I know, you called it the walk of shame?
KS: Walk of shame, yes, and I said they're sheeple. I had a lot of opinions about that. I felt like the most powerful people in the world to do that was just astonishing, they were talking about immigration. In fact, I had urged a bunch of the CEOs to say something before they went just about immigration. Just pick one that they could, mostly they can't agree on lunch but they can all agree that immigration is critical, and many of the CEOs of all these companies are from other countries or now are American citizens but came here who have wonderful stories — Sergei, and Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, whole bunches the people — and so they started off that and then immigration hit.
Talk about where that is right now because it looks like Trump has been blocked everywhere by the courts. Silicon Valley did sort of rise up in their interests because these are workers. I don't think they’re protesting all the people being shoved out of the country back to Mexico. You’re not hearing them on that issue.
To their credit, some of them have talked about that. I mean I think there is and I’ve been critical at times of the Valley but I think that they did step up when the executive orders came out that are unconstitutional. They have stepped up on the DACA issue. I think this is a case where we still believe here that a society that has people from around the world leads to innovation. It leads to a greater ability to invent and pluralism is good. It's sort of like we have this Athens view of America and Trump has the Sparta view of America, so I think it’s a heartfelt belief.
Now, are there excesses? I mean I’ve said even on H-1B visas, there shouldn't be companies that have 50 percent plus H-1B visa employees. I’d rather give people green cards than having H-1B visa folks be underpaid because they had to be here for eight years and their whole employment is contingent on employers. I think that there has to be sensible reform so that people by and large understand that immigrants are a strength to the country.
KS: What do you imagine is happening next because they seemed to have backed up but there’s legal things. Where do you move? You're talking about sensible reform. Where is that right now with the Trump administration I assume you’re talking to them about how this proceeds. Or maybe you’re not at all.
Where I’m talking will lead to some of the Republican ... Chaffetz has a reasonable bill.
KS: The iPhone guy?
Yeah. He has got a bill which is bipartisan which says, let’s get people more green cards, move away from H-1B visas, get rid of the country quotas, let’s expedite the green card. No reason we should be subsidizing people to get a Master’s in this country or a PhD and then having them go back and create those jobs overseas. If Canada and Australia are offering green cards for people to go there, we ought to have a green card.
I think most Americans actually would be for that because they’re not getting below-market wages. The things that annoy people is when you’re hearing stories of people being replaced one-to-one American workers and those aren’t these high-skilled new jobs. So I think if we can reform some of that access and really have a path towards a green card for people who really are going to be job creators, that’s a way forward. Trump, like in a lot of things, he’s been all over the place.
KS: Towards what’s next on this?
I think next is ...
KS: It’s gotten quiet, but there’s legal challenges so nothing’s going anywhere essentially until ...
Right. I think next is getting behind some of these reasonable bills in Congress and making the case that that represents a consensus way forward, and then hoping that Trump picks one of his, he’s had every position on this from banning everyone to having a system which welcomes people who are contributing to the economy, and you hope that he gets behind a bipartisan bill in Congress.
KS: So you pass it on Wednesday when he’s feeling good about foreigners although a lot of his campaign was about anti-foreigners, like they are taking our jobs, demonizing foreigners.
Yeah. He was demonizing trade and foreigners and automation. In the counties, those are places … that message in part I think worked in because we didn’t have an alternative positive vision. We weren’t out there talking about what jobs are we creating, how are we going to help that area. One interesting thing in the polling showed that Hillary Clinton was winning until the last three weeks when we made the election all about Trump, Trump’s crazy, Trump’s gonna go nuclear, Trump’s going to do this.
People vote for how you’re going to help their lives, and my one concern is, as much as I am all for investigating Trump and the Russia connection, all that, I think we've got to have a positive vision as a party and I don't think that vision is there in a compelling enough way for a lot of people in this country. Just look when I lost to Mike Honda, I said, “What did I do wrong? How could I be better?” One of the things, I cringe when I read one of my interviews in the New York Times and I said every person of the future endorses me. I was like, “Gosh, did I really say that?”
KS: Oh yeah, that’s bad because they’re not born, much less vote.
So I said okay, I got to self-reflect. There are a lot of people ... I didn’t have enough, I didn’t spend enough time and didn’t think about what their life is like. I feel like we just lost a major election. Let’s think about what we could do better.
KS: Did you really say that?
I think I did. It’s in the New York Times. It was a bad quote.
TR: Are you worried, though, about some of the early things that the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has done? It sort of seems to me that the first big changes the National Democrats made was to get a DNC chair who is out there trying to borrow some of Trump’s rhetoric. Tom Perez is out there, very, very strong attacks on Trump, strong attacks on Republicans. It just seems to me, the lesson that Democrats have learned so far is that they should be aggressive in the way that they tweet or the way that they talk.
I have a contrarian perspective on this. Remember when Marco Rubio was running against Trump and he went calling him “small hands” and all that? I don't think you beat someone like Trump at his own game.
KS: No. He’s so good at it.
Because I mean not just from a practical, just from a practical, forget the moral level, I just think if you get into a street brawl with him, he will win. So the Dalai Lama — and this is actually someone from the American Enterprise Institute who was a conservative, Arthur Brooks, and he asked the Dalai Lama, “How do you defeat someone with hate or hate speech?” and Dalai Lama said, “With warmheartedness.”
Now, it could seem naïve, but I don’t think it is. I think the way you defeat Trump is by aspiration, by vision, by appealing to people’s higher sense of self. You know how I know this is true? Because the most successful speech in 2016 was Michelle Obama, when she said when they go low, we go high. Democrats win when we have an aspirational message, John F. Kennedy, even Bill Clinton when he ran, Barack Obama. We’re not going to beat Trump getting in the gutter with them.
KS: Unless we have someone who’s good at the gutter.
KS: When we get back, we’re talking more with Representative Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley in Congress.
KS: We’re here with representative Representative Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley in Congress, and with me is Recode’s political editor Tony Romm, and we’re talking about where the country is going, where the Democratic Party is going and more. I think this last section, let’s talk a little bit about what happens next, not just for the Democratic Party or anti-Trump, but what do you think the big issues of the future are. A lot of people are concerned about robots.
TR: Except Steve Mnuchin.
KS: Except Steve Mnuchin, who thinks that’s not going to happen, but it is. Automation, AI, self-driving cars eliminating jobs. A lot of the stuff that’s coming is a little scary for many people, including people who like the future.
No, and it should be concerning. Now I think there’s a huge debate on the level of dislocation because obviously John Maynard Keynes have written this famous article saying we’d all be working 15 hour work weeks but usually when we have technology advance, it creates also new opportunities, more jobs and productivity gains and the economy has not shown right now massive displacement.
That said, the displacement is taking place with low-income, middle-income workers, so it’s really hurting most the people in areas that feel left behind. I think that to me is the great challenge of the 21st century for our country, is as we go through this technology shift, as we know that this is going to hurt a large number of folks, truck drivers, folks who had traditional jobs at factories, how are we going to make sure that they have and their kids have a shot at the American dream?
TR: Do you think that Washington has wrapped its head around precisely what you just said, this notion that it may not be tomorrow that we’re talking about mass displacement but inevitably we could face a world in which robots are closing factories and putting folks out of jobs? Do you think your peers in Washington really understand this?
I think the conversation has been too simplistic, because it's like, “Oh, we're going to all live in ‘The Jetsons’ and there’s not going to be work,” or it’s, well, this is Steve Mnuchin’s comment, “This is not an issue.” The reality is more complex. It’s going to have some displacement effects disproportionately on people who are already in low- and middle-class income. It’s going to have some employment-generating effects, and the question is how do we transition, how do we anticipate the mix of 21st-century jobs that are going to exist and how do we prepare people for those jobs? Someone who’s really thoughtful on this is Reid Hoffman, where he says, “Look, we need to rethink what it means to have an education. Is it going to be a credential? Is it going to be a particular skill?” Employers need to rethink what types of skills they need to hire. This is the conversation. It’s such a bipartisan conversation.
KS: Who has that conversation? Last night, Sam Altman said that all repetitive work that does not create an emotional connection will be gone in the future, that’s pretty much everything. It’s lawyers, accountants, doctors. There’s a lot of jobs that AI and robotics can take care of.
Maybe half of Congress will be gone too.
KS: Well that’s the hope, that’s the dream goal.
And Sam’s a really thoughtful guy. I’m hesitant if anyone ... If John Maynard Keynes couldn't predict the future of work, I’m not sure Sam Altman can predict it.
KS: Who knows?
I like Sam. I love Sam, but Sam’s written stuff on the software revolution and other things, but my point is, no one could predict the exact ... Economists are debating this, is it going to create more jobs? Is it going to lead to lower work hours or not? What type of work is going to be there?
But here’s what I do know, that you want to have local communities getting people together saying, okay, what are our assets in these communities? How can we get people with business and the types of skills that can at least get them employment? How can we fund this type of activity? And how can we do our best to understand that the type of work force is going to change and the needs are going to change. How can we be respectful?
You can't just talk about it in a way that conveys status that somehow if you work in tech, you’re better than the poet or the teacher. There’s this technological optimism, which is great, but there’s an article in the New York Times, Erik Brynjolfsson, who I mentioned, who said, “Technology is not destiny, technology is a tool.”
KS: Absolutely. It’s always been a tool, but you cannot deny when we get self-driving cars, you’ve got to go, “Uh-oh,” like you think about insurance and drivers and everybody. We had the head of Walmart onstage at Code a couple years ago. He was talking about retail stores — this is the head of Walmart — that don’t exist. He said maybe we don’t have stores. The head of Walmart is saying that. You think about the ideas behind it, you have smaller stores, more online. You have Amazon really dominating commerce.
There’s very clear. And then there’s a company called Kiva that’s doing warehouse automation that’s astonishing. There are definite uh-ohs all over the place.
KS: It’s not little. It sort of reminds me of seeing a car for the first time wandering down your lane and going, “Wait a minute, this could affect horses maybe.” It did open up more jobs obviously, roadbuilding, gas stations and all kinds of stuff. Who’s thinking of those things? Is it you? Who should be thinking of those things?
Well, we need more than me. That’s one of the reasons I ran, because I thought that people out here aren’t thinking about those things. The question is also how do we create the dignity of work, because it’s not enough to say some people are going to create the money and let’s just give everyone ...
KS: Universal Basic Income.
You’re right. I'm supportive of efforts to increase the earned income tax credit, which would give a wage increase for folks who now are having a tougher time getting 40-hour weeks and making sure ... So I think there are two parts to it. One is for someone who’s 45 or 50 or 55, the idea that we’re suddenly going to retrain them. They’re going to have a new job. It can come off as insensitive. My wife will tell you, if someone tried to retrain me to be a mechanic, I don’t think she would ever recommend anyone to hire me. I don’t have those skills, so how can you just say , “Okay, we're going to retrain people your age and even older to do these things.”
For them, I think we have to say, okay, they’re not working the same amount of hours, their wages are stagnating, how do we create expanded ... how do we help them with their wages? How do we help them with health care? How do we help them with retirement security and how do we help their kids have a shot at the types of jobs that are going to exist?
Let’s consider driverless cars. The question ... driverless trucks, are we still going to have any truck driver in there for regulations? I don’t know. We have autopiloted planes and yet we still have a pilot or maybe we don’t, maybe it will be fully automated, in which case do we need people loading and unloading? We don’t need that.
KS: Eventually no. I mean, we can pretend we do, but it’s really no.
Yeah, but then who’s doing the software? Are there efficiencies that are created by that in the other industries that are ...
KS: I do think it's about emotional connection. Sometimes we want a waiter or we want a doctor that speaks to us, but a lot of like radiology, not so much. The computers can be better — eventually will be better — and so you think about that in terms of things we do now that we wouldn’t use people for that we used to use people all the time for. You know what I mean? There are tons of jobs now that we just don’t use people for because it’s not as efficient.
Yeah, but there’s digital art, there’s graphics. There’s still the creativity.
KS: That’s what he’s saying. Emotional connection is creativity, it’s whoever is creative. Two answers to that are universal basic income — which Sam is doing and said yesterday he’s moving from 100 families to 1,000. That’s essentially communism, as far as I can tell, you know what I mean, like giving the money. And the second one is on-demand jobs, which have all kinds of problems around them, around health care, around rights, around protections. Talk about each of those solutions.
So on the universal basic income, the bill I have, which is one of the most pushing-the-envelope proposals, would say let’s have a $1 trillion expansion of the earned income tax credit, which is probably the closest move towards a universal income without divorcing it from work. It would basically provide a 20 percent wage increase to the bottom 20 percent of American households, whose wages have stagnated from 1979. So instead of giving Trump’s $3 trillion tax break to the investor class, why don’t we give money to folks who actually are making between $30,000 and $70,000.
Here’s the challenge with that, I mean Trump’s policies may actually be better for the stock market in terms of a temporary bump. This policy would be better for getting people to spend money growing the economy, growing jobs, and so the question is, what do we want to value as a country? Is it economic GDP growth and jobs? And how do we get people some economic security in a time where hours are being cut.
Second to that, though, we do have to think about what are the types of jobs that people are doing. The example I gave at Flex — which is using cloud software to help manufacturers become more efficient and giving them greater capacity — they’ll tell you that manufacturers will say that their biggest need isn’t right now, the biggest concern isn't that there are no robots. They're saying they don’t have the skilled employee base. If you actually talk to these manufacturers, they need people who understand manufacturing but are also proficient at some of the technology. So for the immediate needs, we should be figuring out what employers ... going and talking to them, saying what type of work do you need and how do we get people these skills.
It's a challenge, because a lot of the conception of work has changed. There are a lot of people who would say that what I do all day, probably most Americans will say about me, which is it’s not real work. He just goes, he talks to people. He sends emails, he’s not getting his hands dirty. It's not grueling actual work, and people are proud of this. Right now, the coal miners I met in Appalachia, they were proud of the work ethic of a hard day’s work. The question is, how do you get people to see that there still could be dignity and hard work, but in maybe more with the use of technology.
KS: Right, so UBI, what do you think of it?
I think it’s good if it’s connected to work but not divorcing it from work. I don’t think divorcing it from work is the right message.
KS: So it looks like a handout.
It looks like a handout, but if it's connected ... you can get pretty far connecting it to work. I urge folks to look at the trillion dollar proposal that I'm trying to get Chair Brown on it in the Senate and I think that's a step in that direction without disconnecting it.
KS: And sharing economy?
Sharing economy in terms of ... You know, again, the challenge there is of course you don’t have unionization, you don’t have it so ... which is the reality, which is why I think having this expanded earned income tax credit where folks are working 20 hours, 25 hours. They don’t have the same benefits, then that can be a wage supplement for them. But I do think also that just because let’s say Uber or others doesn’t allow you to say ...
KS: Yes, let’s pick on Uber.
I don’t understand for the life of me what connection Uber’s application has to do with the classification if someone is an employee or an independent contractor. That’s an age-old thing. Don’t pretend that you’re making some innovation by treating someone as an independent contractor. I mean, someone could just do a business model treating people as independent contractors. This is I think one of the challenges for Silicon Valley. I believe most of the folks I’ve met, they’re brilliant, they're hard-working, they're innovative, they’re doing great things. I think they're well-intentioned. But they’re creating so much wealth, they're creating so much success, be mindful and cognizant of making sure that everybody is succeeding from it.
If you have to pay people a little bit more, if you have to bend over backwards in a close call and treat people as employees, if you have to say to contractors, “Hey, let’s make sure people are getting a decent wage,” let’s do that, we have the wealth.
TR: But how realistic are these things in the short term? I’m pretty sure it takes the House sometimes months to name a post office much less reconsider the government’s benefit structure. The way we deal with health insurance and unemployment insurance and the trillion dollar package that I think you have said in previous interviews it’s unlikely to happen in the near term, so talk a little bit about the prospects for all this and what actual time horizon we’re talking about here.
It’s going to take time, but so does anything worth doing in politics. And partly it should take time because we’re a messy democracy of 300 million people and you wouldn’t want someone like Ro Khanna saying, “I’ve got a great idea, let’s do it tomorrow.” I mean, there may be huge flaws in my idea. It should be vetted. It should be debated. That’s part of the whole constitutional process.
There are times when I get frustrated, the political process is so much gridlock, but if you look at American history, most things worth doing have taken years, have taken decades. That’s, I think, one of the lessons that Silicon Valley needs to realize, that the pace of politics is much slower than the pace of the Valley because they’re different enterprises.
TR: Do you think part of the problem, though, is that so many other folks in Congress are constantly out at town halls and things talking to their voters as though these changes that we’re discussing in the economy don’t exist, that these factories can be protected, that these jobs can be protected. Is that the problem here, that we’re all kind of lying to ourselves and that makes it ...
KS: Like a factory, an Apple factory in Kansas is going to solve anything. It's 500 jobs. It’ll be a nice photo op but really ...
Photo ops and symbolism matter as carriers, we could do with a few more of those, but I agree. But I’ll take two things on that: One is, without naming names, I was in this meeting with some of my colleagues and they said we can’t talk about innovation jobs because it’s scary to people and we can't talk about tech jobs. I said before Donald Trump ran, people would’ve told you that he was crazy to say that we can bring back coal and manufacturing and that’s just not possible, but he sold the entire country on that vision because he had the conviction of his wrong ideology to say, “Here’s what I believe, here’s what I’m going to do.”
We, I think, have the right message. There are a transformation of jobs, that the 21st century mix of jobs is going to look different than the 20th century. Let’s go sell people on that vision; that’s what leadership is about. People will respond to strong leadership. By the way, if my ideas are wrong, so be it, they’ll vote me out of office. Let’s say 15 people try to sell their vision. One of them will catch on.
TR: Are you trying to sell that vision at town halls this year? Are you going to do it?
I have been. I tried to sell ...
KS: How are your town halls going?
They’re good. They're 900 people, 700 people that are ... One person got upset at me because I said Trump is a blip in American history and we'll be fine as a country. They said, “Look, you can’t call him a blip, he’s an existential threat to our democracy.” I said well look, democracy is working, but they’re passionate, I love them. People are holding you accountable for every word you say. They’re saying why aren’t you cosponsoring this bill?
One of the interesting things is a lot of young folks have come up to me at these town halls and saying I want to go into journalism, which I've never heard before. It’s created a type of civic activism.
KS: There is more. Are you having angry town halls? I think the Republicans are having the angry ones, right?
They’re having more of the angry ones. I’m having town halls where there’s criticism too, which is good, but they're not angry.
KS: How do you feel about the impact of social media then? That’s where a lot of the noise is and a lot of the strength too. There’s a lot going on. I think it does impact Congress. I think a lot of the sort of circle of journalism town halls, social media is very strong right now, everyone’s paying attention. How do you think that impacts and what Trump is doing around Twitter and things like that?
Personally, I think social media, I think it’s great that more people are engaged, more people are involved. Ultimately I’m a more of a John Stuart Mill view, that once ideas are out there in the long run, the truth prevails. I think that the fact that more people have access to information today, it’s easier to get your voice out in American democracy than ever before. It’s ultimately going to be a good thing for our country. I know that there’s this sense of fake news and other things, but I’m not sure that the alternative — which was, let’s say, I have our news from three Walter Cronkites — is a better world. I'd rather take the chances for fake news now in a long-run world where someone from Africa gets to criticize American foreign-policy.
TR: What do you think then about the role companies play there in that fake news problem? Do you think that they should do more like a Facebook or a Google or do you think that they need to be hands-off for precisely the reasons you just mentioned?
I think to the extent that they provide platforms that are the most open to providing people with menus of options. That’s what their role should be. I’ve heard the sense is, okay, if you get one news article, give people an option to go to matching news articles if they want, but I certainly don’t think that they should be weighing in in trying to give people a certain perspective or content.
TR: So Facebook shouldn’t be out there taking off conservative news websites that may be publishing things that aren’t the best account of what happened in the course of the day?
I don’t think ... because ultimately if they start doing that, first of all, they’d probably start losing a lot of conservatives ...
TR: Which happens, which happened at one point.
Even using it — and ultimately we should try to be expanding speech, expanding the scope of things that people are exposed to. So to the extent that they can make these platforms more open, Vivek Wadhwa had this suggestion of giving matching content of the opposing side or things like that I’m open to but not in a way that would in a way that look like they’re censoring.
KS: Although I think there’s a differentiation between these boiler rooms come on, there’s boiler rooms of people making money. This is like spam.
KS: They should remove it only because the experience is bad, it’s discernibly false and they do it with advertising. So why not?
Sure. Or if there's hate speech or incentive to violence. There are areas I think, or if there’s total spam, I think those are legitimate areas, but obviously, that’s their decision. I’m just saying that as my personal viewpoint.
KS: Do you think social media impacted this election?
Yeah absolutely. Absolutely. I think that it impacted it in a way that the traditional campaigns didn’t anticipate. I think it allowed a lot more people to have a voice. I think it allowed a lot more people to question the establishment, which were all good things, but I think campaigns that used it as a tool were more effective.
KS: Used it too well. Trump is like a Twitter savant. He really is. As much as you might hate his tweets, they’re fantastic. I hate to say that, but they're effective for him.
Well the thing that makes them effective I think is an authenticity. I couldn’t disagree more with Trump’s worldview but he’s been ... Someone had said to me, “Well, he had a spelling mistake,” and they were laughing about it. I said, “I have spelling mistakes in my tweets, you know what that tells people? That tells them that it’s not a staffer writing it. He’s probably writing it himself.”
I think that the key to social media is it’s made a world of greater authenticity. The biggest thing in politics I think is, now have real ideas, have some convictions, put it out there and let it be what it's going to be. People want to see a boldness, an authenticity and something that’s not just the status quo, and social media I think has made that partly possible.
KS: Last question. Tony will have a last one too. What do you think your most important thing is to focus in on right now as a Congressman? The earned income tax credit, what else? What other things do you think you really need to deliver to your constituents?
That’s two different questions. I’m delivering to the constituents on a lot of local issues. There’s airport noise in my district. There’s a landfill that’s creating odor. I mean, your job as a Congressman, as Tony will tell you, is first local and really meet the needs of the community.
As a representative of Silicon Valley, I believe there has to be a way of giving aspiration to people across this country that they can view technology as a positive. Let me give you a very brief anecdote. My nephew came, my wife’s nephew, to visit us for a week. We got him Adele tickets, we got him A’s tickets. He was from Ohio. He was so excited that he got to go see Facebook and Google and a tour of that. He wants to be a professional football player. I've told him at the age of 12 that there’s one Indian American who’s ever done that, Brandon Chillar. His odds are probably not as good.
But think about how many kids across this country dream about playing professional football, professional basketball, and they're brought in, only 700 kids get to do it, only 2,000 in the NFL. We got to get people across this country believing that they can be part of a technology future, that that’s going to work for their families in an empowering way. If I can help shape the positive narrative of what technology’s doing and get people to feel that they can be part of this and the policy that allows them to be part of this, I think that's the biggest contribution they can make into public service.
TR: The flipside of that is the voter side of this. If you're a voter right now who isn’t happy with the current state of affairs with the Trump administration, are you really stuck for the next few years waiting out this administration? What do you do? How do you use your position in Silicon Valley to maybe change things if you’re quite unhappy right now?
I think you never had a bigger voice. One is the tweets you do, the blogs you do, sharing on social media. That is making an impact, trust me. Members of Congress and others will look if something is going viral.
TR: They’ll look at the tweets, though.
I do. If they’re not, they’re out of touch. I think as a citizen, you have extraordinary impact partly to even shape the thinking of the Democratic Party. Fine, the platform, it’s in chaos right now in terms of a void in Washington. We have to fill it. Trump has blown up the system. When he’s talking about $3 trillion of tax cuts or a trillion dollars of infrastructure, Obama needed $50 billion of infrastructure so the fact that he’s talking about 3 trillion now, I can tell you about a trillion dollars of EITC.
There is this whole void in Washington that's looking for ideas, and I think people can start to feel that in a positive way to help the Democrats construct the positive agenda. The second thing of course they can do is engage in activism, which they have in Kansas. We almost won that seat, the seven-point loss with the guy, a Bernie supporter, running.
KS: That’s close.
The DNC missed it. Tom Perez, he’s fine, but he didn’t put a dollar into that race, the DCCC missed it. You know who supported that guy? It was all people online. John Ossoff in Georgia. He’s gotten more money than I’ll raise in my career as Congressman in two months because of online activism. There is this huge ability for people to participate. I think who can handle this, one of the things that people always ask me is what is the Democratic Party doing, what is our strategy? As if I have some insight into this room where the strategy is.
KS: Oh no, it’s like a goat rodeo, I’m guessing, cat rodeo, something. I imagine it’s completely disorganized. That’s how I look at it.
And partly because it’s so messy, it’s like you are the Democratic Party. You are the folks who are shaping the agenda and the people in Washington are reacting to that and helping shape that. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have about the shape of the platform of our party and the candidates.
KS: In that vein, I’m going to ask this question: Is there a techie you think should run or will run? I mean, Zuckerberg is talking about it but I'm not so sure. I’m pretty sure Sheryl Sandberg is not running. But who, like Howard Schultz or ... Who should run?
I have a counterintuitive view of it. I think it would be great for them to run for governor or senator, or Congress as long as it isn’t against me, hopefully.
KS: It would take a lot of money.
But I think partly ... Kitty Dukakis said the presidency is not an entry-level job, and there is something to be said for having some level of public service before trying to lead the country. I think the reaction to Trump on the Democratic side, if we're going to go with an outsider, it would be much more likely to go with someone like a Robert Reischauer type figure who is engaged in public service and serious economic thought than someone who has not had a track record. People usually like the opposite, and I think Trump shows that just having a business mindset of things is missing so much public service.
KS: It lets you know everyone was like, “I have $1 billion.”
Yeah and they can all run. I don’t think they see, I don’t think the grassroots, I don’t think they may need to go out to the town halls and see where the energy, the grassroots energy of the people who are actually going to vote in the primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa is. A lot of that energy is going to be suspicious, actually, of just people who made a ton of money in the corporate world. They don't want folks who have a track record of service.
One of the things that Bernie Sanders, what got him the attention he did, is people went and googled his speeches and they said wow, this guy has been fighting the same things 30 years ago. He was being arrested for civil rights. I think that is the counter to Trump. I'm not saying it may not be an outsider but it’s probably going to be an outsider who has really thought deeply about public service and had a track record of public service.
KS: Yeah. He’s also adorable, Bernie Sanders.
Yeah, you should have him on the podcast
KS: We will. He has his own podcast now.
You started a trend, Kara.
KS: Yeah I know, no, no, no. Anyway Ro, this has been really helpful. This is really fascinating. I can talk for a very long time with you. We’re here with Representative Ro Khanna who represents Silicon Valley, and he’s talked about a range of things. And thank you, Tony, for coming on, Tony Romm, who is our political editor at Recode.
KS: It was great talking to both of you and thanks for coming by.