Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna Accuses Top Democrat Of Stonewalling Him

He says Rep. Frank Pallone, incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, won’t advance the bill he’s introduced that already passed the Senate.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is interviewed in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2018.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is interviewed in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2018.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) blasted Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on Friday for allegedly blocking his bill to study the economic impact of broadband internet because of Pallone’s personal dislike for Khanna.

“Frank Pallone is saying he won’t move a Khanna bill,” the California representative tweeted Friday night. “Why? Nothing to do with the policy. He is upset that I am supporting a Green New Deal and encroaching on his turf.”

Khanna co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in February to have the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis study “the effects of broadband [internet] on the economy” with the goal of expanding high-speed internet access to underserved areas, most of which are rural.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a rumored 2020 presidential contender, co-sponsored the legislation on the Senate side where it passed unanimously last week.

Khanna told HuffPost that he approached Pallone, the chairman-designate of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation, to see whether Pallone would be willing to take up the bill in committee.

Pallone implied that he could not because it had not gone through the right procedural channels, according to Khanna.

Khanna then heard from people familiar with the conversation that Pallone’s staff had told Senate staff that he “does not move Khanna bills.”

Khanna suspects that the reason Pallone allegedly has a grudge against him is because he was one of the first members of Congress to endorse New York Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for the creation of a special committee tasked with drafting “Green New Deal” legislation.

Pallone, whose committee would ordinarily deal with climate change legislation, has opposed the committee’s creation.

A spokesperson for Pallone did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.

But Khanna’s decision to air his grievance publicly reflects a growing boldness on the part of younger, largely progressive members of Congress to eschew norms of deference to party leaders in favor of transparency.

“This speaks to a bigger concern, which is the power of committee chairs to block legislation from going to the floor and the need for greater transparency in the process,” Khanna said.

Ocasio-Cortez is among those new members who have used social media to shine a light on heretofore private aspects of influence peddling in Congress, such as the presence of undisclosed lobbyists at a Harvard-sponsored orientation for new lawmakers.

Khanna, a two-term congressman from Silicon Valley and vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, conceded that the freshman class’ boldness might be rubbing off on slightly more seasoned members.

“It’s given us some courage,” he said.

Khanna insisted that he did not take the decision to go public lightly. He never spoke up about previous off-putting interactions with Pallone, including an incident in Khanna’s first term when Pallone publicly objected to cooperating with Khanna on the drafting of an internet bill of rights.

Khanna also witnessed Pallone mocking the direct action tactics of the young Sunrise Movement protesters who had inundated Capitol Hill to press for a Green New Deal.

“He was laughing about it in the elevator,” Khanna recalled. “It was very condescending.”

Pallone, who has represented a dense stretch of central New Jersey since 1989, is a member of Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee, which is responsible for deciding committee assignments. That gives him some ammunition with which to retaliate against Khanna, who is seeking a spot on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and spending policies.

But Pallone also represents one of the districts with the highest concentrations of Indian-Americans in the country. Khanna, one of a handful of Indian-Americans in the House, is a something of a celebrity in Indian-American communities ― even on the East Coast.

Khanna, who unseated incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D) in a 2016 primary, has quickly become one of the most outspoken and prolific progressive House members. In June, he elicited criticism from fellow Democrats for issuing a dual endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Joseph Crowley, the incumbent she ultimately unseated. Ocasio-Cortez has praised him for being the only member of Congress to back her bid.

But Khanna has stuck his neck out on policy too. It’s what prompted The Nation’s John Nichols to name him the “most valuable House member” in a Thursday rundown of the 2018 “progressive honor roll.”

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Khanna has introduced legislation to force an end to the United States’ participation in the war in Yemen. He also co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) targeting Amazon’s mistreatment of its low-wage workers; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos responded to the public pressure campaign by raising warehouse workers’ pay to $15 an hour.

Khanna has even gotten President Donald Trump to sign two bills he introduced. Trump signed a bill Thursday that Khanna co-sponsored requiring federal agencies to modernize their websites.

“It’s been easier to get Donald Trump to move my legislation than Frank Pallone,” Khanna said.

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