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Not a ‘monster’: Why Rep. Ro Khanna still goes on Fox News

‘I’m coming at it as a person of patriotism,’ the California Democrat says 

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., says his Fox News appearances can “make people not fear the caricature.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., says his Fox News appearances can “make people not fear the caricature.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Ro Khanna has a theory about Fox News.

He’s a frequent guest on networks like CNN and MSNBC, but he also pops up on the conservative-leaning network. 

The California Democrat, whose district includes some of Silicon Valley, kept a smile on his face as he tangled with Maria Bartiromo on gas prices, inflation and climate change in July.

“There, we completely agree, Maria,” he said on “Sunday Morning Futures” as the conversation turned to the recent “chips and science” bill aimed at boosting domestic production and research. “Look, the last time we had a trade surplus in this country was 1975. It’s crazy. We have outsourced our industrial base. We need to get it back.” 

For Khanna, lots of his district’s voters watch Fox, so why not meet them there? And if his remedies don’t jive with Republicans, at least they know him a little better. 

“I’m coming at it as a person of patriotism and coming at it with good intentions,” he says. He may not be naive enough to think he’s changing many minds, but he still thinks it matters.

“We can learn to respect differences in this country,” he says.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: Most Democrats stay away from Fox News, but you do a lot of appearances there. Why?

A: A lot of people in my district watch Fox News, so I try to reach them. I’m not sure people hear my position and then say, “Oh, OK, now I agree with Ro’s vote,” but I do think it can decrease the vitriol. It can make people not fear the caricature. They may say, “I don’t agree with him, I may never vote for him, but I understand where he’s coming from.”

The more we can do that — the more we can go to each other’s districts and have town halls, the more we can appear in different types of media — the less people will see us as monsters, as the other, as foreign.

You have to communicate with people to understand where they’re coming from. And that’s the whole nature of a democracy.

Q: You represent parts of Silicon Valley. Are there lessons from the tech industry that Congress should be applying to itself?

A: More risk-taking, more willingness to be imaginative, out of the box. A willingness to fail in trying new things. 

In Congress there’s a hesitancy to be bold or try different approaches. When it comes to outreach to constituents, we can do a better job of having town halls online. And we can do a better job of giving constituents a say in legislation. 

One thing we have to do is put our bills online with plenty of notice. We have to be more transparent, both with the public and with members of Congress, about how those bills are being drafted and what provisions are in there. Technology can make the process less opaque and more accessible to people.

Q: You are a member of roughly five dozen caucuses. Is this a plot to be named “most involved” among your colleagues? 

A: I’m active in probably three or four main ones — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Indian American Caucus, the Medicare for All Caucus and of course the California delegation. The others, it’s more saying you support something and maybe you’ll sign a letter. 

I mean, as a congressman, you’re obviously a generalist — you have to be aware and opining on different issues. But I would say focus on a few key priorities to get things done.

Q: You belong to Gen X. Do you feel the presence of your generation when you look around Congress? 

A: I don’t think we have had a clear identity in terms of political leadership as a generation. It is a delayed generation, because the baby boomers don’t want to leave the stage. They’ve had a long time in leadership, but now you see the Gen X folks are having a greater impact, and it remains to be seen what our role and definition will be.

Q: You’re still outnumbered by the boomers, but now more than 140 of you serve in the House. Millennials have it worse, with just around 30 members.

A: Well, we’ve constructed so many barriers to getting involved. When people were running in the 1970s, when the boomer generation was just starting out in public service, it didn’t cost millions of dollars to run for Congress. You didn’t have the type of control that the parties and super PACs have. You didn’t have the redistricting being as bad as it is. So there are many more institutional barriers that have been constructed over the last 40 to 50 years, and that obviously disadvantages people who are younger. 

There are a lot of negatives to social media, but one of the things it’s done is democratize the ability to quickly build up name ID, quickly get your message out. The more you can do that in ways that don’t require a large presence on a more expensive media like television, the better. But I think the fundamental reform we need is of money in politics.

Quick hits

Last book you read? Thomas Piketty, “A Brief History of Equality,” about how the United States actually up to about 1960 was leading in economic equality compared to Europe, and then the trends reversed.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? Sure. I have ideal visions of things I want, but sometimes I accept provisions I may disagree with, if that’s what it takes to get to 218 votes.

Your least popular opinion? I was the only member of the House Armed Services Committee to vote against the NDAA because I didn’t agree with the increase of $37 billion on top of Joe Biden’s requests. Literally, the vote was 57 to one.

If you could do anything else for a job, what would it be? I used to teach economics. I would probably go back to teaching in some way.

Closest friend across the aisle? Probably Mike Gallagher; we did the Endless Frontier Act with him. Either him or Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up.

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