Rep. Ro Khanna apologizing to constituents
who were unable to hear him speak Wednesday
night at Ohlone College in Fremont.
While congressmembers, particularly Republicans, are being harangued by constituents at town halls across the country, Rep. Ro Khanna’s first in Fremont, conversely, sounded more like an opportunity for the freshman lawmaker to vent about the current state of the Democratic Party.
Khanna’s thoughts on defending net neutrality, curtailing the influence of money in politics, Russian influence in the last election, Trump’s executive orders, and Supreme County nominee Neil Gorsuch, were all met with enthusiasm by the overflow crowd at Ohlone College Wednesday night.
Hundreds though, were left unable to hear Khanna's comments due to overcapacity.An estimated 1,000 constituents attended the mid-week town hall, but only about half were able to listen to the main question and answer session.
The others were sequestered in another building. Khanna later took questions from a few hundred more in the overflow room, while more than hundred in the adjoining foyer of the building were completely shut out. As campus police cleared out the room, one woman grumbled, “Worst organized town hall ever.”
What they missed was a clear example of Khanna making good, thus far, on a campaign pledge to become one of the most progressive members of Congress. Along the way, he sharply criticized the Democratic Party for its losses last November, while laying out a future strategy tailored more toward offering solutions that help people’s everyday lives and less on attacking President Trump.
“What has gone wrong with the Democratic message?” asked Khanna. “[Hillary Clinton] was up when she was talking about making people’s lives better and unrigging the economy. The polling shows that when we started making it about Donald Trump our lead actually started to decline. We need to hold Donald Trump accountable, but we’ve got a much bigger issue in this country," said Khanna.
"People were upset not just about Donald Trump. People have been upset about failed institutions in this country. They feel their wages have been stagnant and they feel they’re not getting a fair shake and I believe we need to offer a positive vision of how we’re going to help the middle class in this country to have an opportunity and have a strong economic agenda and earn their trust. And it can’t simply be about criticizing the president.”
Similarly, Khanna said calls for Trump’s impeachment after just one month in office are premature, although, potential wrongdoings by the president need on-going oversight. “That’s the exact type of thinking that would be reactionary on the other side,” he said, equating the current impeachment talk to previous charges, for example, by the Tea Party against President Obama. “I’m not going to make my career in congress be about that,” he added.
Khanna, though, labeled Trump the “Distracter-in-Chief.” “He puts these bombs out there, we all react and quietly he’s got people dismantling labor regulations, environmental regulations and health and safety regulations.”
He then issued one of the most pointed remarks of the night by slamming Senate Democrats for voting for a number of Trump’s cabinet nominees. “We cannot have Democrats voting with Republican majorities on some of these issues. Just look at the voting records and hold them accountable,” said Khanna, who did not reference a specific senator, but several in the audience, yelled out the name of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has outraged many of her constituents in the state for confirmation votes in favor of Trump nominees.
When asked how the party intends to win back seats in Congress during the 2018 midterms, Khanna said, “I believe the Democratic Party needs to be far more bold, far more populist. We need to tell the American people that if you vote for Democrats, your life is going to improve.”
Further down the line, Khanna said he doesn’t want the Democratic National Committee choosing the party’s next presidential nominee, as it appeared it did with Hillary Clinton in 2016. He added a personal belief that a smaller and more ideology-driven Democratic Party would be stronger than a larger, watered down party. “You have to be a party that stands for something,” he said.
On the Affordable Care Act and its possible repeal by House Republicans, Khanna said Democrats need to better highlight how the loss of health insurance is "inhumane" for 30 million Americans. He added, Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, if it occurs, may further dwindle restrictions on money in politics. “He might make it a wild west and push even more money into politics,” said Khanna.
Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration violate due process, said Khanna. "That’s not the American way of doing business...If you believe in the Constitution, you should be worried about this executive order.”
Khanna, though, said he does not believe the country is heading down the path to fascism or totalitarianism, as some often warn. “I say, you don’t give American democracy enough credit. When one federal judge in Washington can get the president of the United States to grind to a halt that gives me confidence in American democracy.”
.@RepRoKhanna town hall overflow room. Police says group is a fire hazard. #Ca17 pic.twitter.com/ITLiEnheIZ— Steven Tavares (@eastbaycitizen) February 23, 2017