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‘Pull Biden across finish line, and then organise’, Ro Khanna tells progressives

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US Congressman Ro Khanna (Democrat-California) speaks with people at a demonstration. President Joe Biden’s approval rating is under water, and he is facing a down-to-the-wire battle against a convicted felon in Donald Trump. Biden won’t win unless the kind of voters that Khanna appeals to — younger, progressive, critical of US militarism overseas — show up for the Democrats in November, the writer says. – Picture: rokhanna.com

By Will Bunch

Is Khanna a bridge to the 2030s for a party whose future is looking very murky in 2024?

In the 5th inning of Monday night’s Phillies game against the San Diego Padres, Alec Bohm stepped up to the plate with two Phils on base and a chance to blow open a close game. When Bohm’s drive to left field just cleared the fence for a 3-run homer, more than 43,000 people leapt to their feet, and a guy sitting in front of us in a white headband abruptly whipped around, jumped in the air, and gave Ro Khanna an aggressive high-five.

I can almost guarantee the random Phillies fan had no idea he was slapping the hand of a US congressman. And one elected by the visitors’ home state of California, no less.

But Khanna, a 47-year-old Democrat who represents the upscale tech paradise of Silicon Valley and is considered a rising star of his party’s progressive wing, wants the world — even all the San Francisco Giants fans back in his district — to know that he still loves the Phillies.

They’re the team he grew up with as a kid in Bucks County, rooting from the concrete heights of the 700 Level in the old Vet with $1 tickets that were doled out as a prize for getting good grades. (There might be a bigger story in this adopted Californian’s public display of affection for a Pennsylvania team — but more on that in a moment.)

I’ve known Khanna since I profiled him for The Inquirer five years ago, chronicling how a kid from a middle-class subdivision in Holland, Pennsylvania, and Council Rock High School became a top adviser to the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders and a progressive voice on US foreign policy.

Monday night, I got to tag along as the congressman enjoyed a belated Father’s Day with a crew that included his own dad — Vijay, retired engineer from Philadelphia’s former Rohm and Haas, and his mom, Jyotsna, a Council Rock substitute teacher when Ro and his brother were in grade school.

Khanna hopes he can provide leadership on those issues because folks on Capitol Hill see him as a uniter among the ever-feuding Democrats

Now the kid who watched Mike Schmidt and Lenny Dykstra as specks from the cheap seats got the VIP treatment behind home plate for pre-game batting practice. As Bohm, Bryson Stott, and Brandon Marsh perfected the swings that would later produce 18 hits in a 9-2 rout, Khanna reminisced about sneaking away from his cousin’s wedding to watch Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, only to have his 17-year-old heart broken by Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams’ service of a home-run ball to the Blue Jays’ Joe Carter. But politics is never far from the front of Khanna’s brain.

We were talking about how Khanna’s dad, who played cricket as a youth in India before coming to America, became a fan of baseball and his alma mater’s University of Michigan football, only to see cricket now gaining a foothold in the United States.

That “is part of my vision for America”, the congressman sharply pivoted. “We can become this beautiful multiracial community without giving up all of the great traditions. We can celebrate the great traditions — most immigrant families do — but add to it new ones. That is the beauty of this country.”

I’d wanted to catch up with Khanna to get his thoughts about the future of the Democrats at what feels like a make-or-break moment for the party, and also for its progressive wing that steadily gained influence over the last decade.

President Joe Biden’s approval rating is under water, and he is facing a down-to-the-wire battle against a convicted felon in Donald Trump. Biden won’t win unless the kind of voters that Khanna appeals to — younger, progressive, critical of US militarism overseas — show up for the Democrats in November.

“We’ve got to pull Biden across the finish line, and then organise,” Khanna told me. He thinks Biden can win with an economic message that’s focused on the future and on big things, suggesting a 10-day tour of the Upper Midwest to talk about reviving steel and other major industries.

The four-term congressman is hopeful that Biden will stay in the Oval Office to sign his legislative priorities, including a bill to give all Americans child care for no more than $10 a day, raising the federal minimum wage to $17, and hiking taxes on millionaires and billionaires — many of whom live in Khanna’s district, home to tech giants such as Apple and Google.

Khanna hopes he can provide leadership on those issues because folks on Capitol Hill see him as a uniter among the ever-feuding Democrats — a member in good standing of the Sanders-ite progressive wing who works well with moderates and will even go on Fox News to pitch his ideas to Republicans.

I spoke by phone Monday with Khanna’s friend Ed Rendell, the 80-year-old ex-mayor and governor still active in party affairs, who told me: “Ro Khanna is a very important guy for the future of the Democratic Party in the sense that I think the party has to come together.” Democrats’ left and centre flanks need to “stop bickering and act more in concert”, Rendell said.

Is Khanna a bridge to the 2030s for a party whose future is looking very murky in 2024? It’s interesting that Khanna is returning again to his native state in late July for an event in Johnstown around rebuilding the steel industry — and that he invited me to publicise his Phillies’ fandom here in a swing state that’s become the decider in US presidential elections with its 19 electoral votes.

“I think he definitely could be a candidate for national office,” Rendell said. “I think he’ll be the leading progressive going into 2028, and he could be a presidential or vice presidential candidate,” adding: “We can’t win unless our candidate is a uniter.”

Khanna was a lot more reticent when I prodded him about 2028, when he’ll turn 52. “We’ve got to win this [2024] election, but there’s a hunger for a new generation of leadership and I hope to be a strong voice in that conversation with my economic vision,” he told me. “We’ve got to bring this country together. And then it’s for the American people to decide.”

There’s no doubt that America needs a new vision, so why not one that was honed by a straight-A kid squinting at Von Hayes from the upper reaches of the Vet?

Will Bunch is the national columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer — with some strong opinions about what’s happening in America around social injustice, income inequality and the government.

This article was published on Common Dreams

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of The African