Ro Khanna to Justice Democrats: “I Endorsed Bernie Sanders.” Did he Lie? (Update: NO!)

Update 2/26/18: 1) In the comments below, Cullen Tiernan reports that Khanna was a supporter of Sanders prior to the June primary, not after, as the piece suggests. 2)  More significantly,  since this was posted almost a year ago, Congressman Khanna has proven himself to be one of, if not the, most principled, pragmatic and serious voices for the Sanders insurgency and its political agenda that we have. And he is exactly where we need him-and them-to be.  In office.  He has amply demonstrated that he is as good as his word when following through on his commitments to left/progressive causes, as a recent announcement from Democracy For America made clear.  That, more than anything else could shows that the answer to the question posed in the title is a definite NO.  This should be the unambiguous takeaway from this post.  How we got to this point is of only secondary historical interest-with the text below to be understood in that light.

When President Pence is inaugurated will Chuck Schumer wipe a tear from his eye and announce in a trembling voice that “our long national nightmare is over?”

That’s a joke of course, but there’s a serious point and it is the obvious one. When Pence takes office following Trump’s eventual impeachment or resignation he will be supported by congressional majorities in both houses, not to mention Republican dominance of all levels of the judiciary as well as the great majority of states where, under Obama, Democrats have lost over 900 offices.  The nightmare, rather than coming to an end, will be just beginning. That’s the reality which no amount of triumphalism from Democratic Party operatives celebrating Trump’s demise should be allowed to obscure.

For what they will be celebrating will be a revitalized Republican brand setting the stage for subsequent victories in 2018 and 2020 and beyond.

If this scenario is not going to materialize the Democrats will need to show that they understand the principle that you can’t beat something with nothing.  And nothing is the only word to describe the technocratic neoliberals they have marketed and sold to an unwilling and increasingly restive party base for three political generations.  Most indications, most crucially in the form of the candidates they are fielding (including in my own swing district in the Hudson Valley) are, unfortunately, that they have learned nothing.


While granting that, there are beginning to be small but possibly serious indications that the Democrats might have the capacity to break out of its dysfunctional, losing pattern.  If it does happen, it will likely result from well organized, politically savvy and articulate opposition both from the outside and inside of the party, reassembling the Sanders coalition as an electoral force in 2018.  The most promising of these seems at this point to be Justice Democrats, founded by Young Turks media maven Cenk Uygur.  The organization got a boost some weeks ago when it announced a merger with another one of these fledging organizations, Brand New Congress founded by former Sanders staffers.  The two will combine forces to develop and run competitive candidates for all offices from the local to the national level.

That the Justice Democrats are not without certain ambiguities can be seen in the first national office holder to join their ranks.  That is freshman Congressman Ro Khanna, who announced his membership in a Young Turks interview with Uygur.

Khanna would probably not be anyone’s first guess to join a dissident faction of the Democrats, or, for that matter, any progressive’s first choice.  His campaign to defeat long serving member Mike Honda was financed by a passel of silicon valley plutocrats including Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmit not to mention the most odious, Peter Thiel.  Just as problematic is a disturbing pitch to John Podesta from Clinton bundler Steve Spinner hyping Khanna as “a loyal supporter of Hillary Clinton” one who, unlike his opponent, has “come out for (the TPP)” and whose “donors can be a source of at least $50 million for the Democratic Party in national races.”

That said, Khanna says pretty much all of the right things in his interview with Uygur, and he says them compellingly in signing on to every significant aspect of the Justice Democrat’s excellent platform.

And he seems prepared to act on them: he has signed on as a co- sponsor of H.R. 676 (Medicare for All) and is working on a bill that will substantially increase the Earned Income Tax Credit funded either through deficits or through a “financial transaction tax, getting rid of corporate deductions, taxing corporate deferrals.” If the Dems are going to staunch their hemorrhaging of elected offices this is the basic platform they will need to adopt.

Furthermore, the almost complete absence of national Democrats willing and able to articulate the basic common sense of traditional New Deal liberalism puts us in the position of being beggars who can’t be choosers.  For that reason, I’m inclined to cut Khanna some slack.


That said, there is one loose end which for me, and I suspect many others, significantly dampens the enthusiasm we have for this development.  In response to one of Uygur’s questions, Khanna explicitly references his having “endorsed Bernie Sanders” in the California primary.   Having done a fair amount of digging, I been able to find no indication that this is true and at least two direct indications of the opposite, namely Spinner’s email to Podesta mentioned above and a direct endorsement of Clinton in this statement issued in December of 2015.

As mentioned, I don’t have a problem with (Ro) Khanna’s past history or problematic funding base–provided that he continues to say and do the right things. What I do have a problem with is the apparent LIE that he told Uygur. Why doesn’t Khanna admit that he has rethought his previous commitment to Clintonite neoliberalism and now rejects it? If he does that, he will allay the suspicions of those who see his attempt to gain influence within Justice Democrats as a ploy by the party establishment to undermine a serious potential challenge to its dominance. If he doesn’t, the result is likely to be reduced enthusiasm and loss of membership for Justice Democrats, ultimately insuring that their challenge will fail.

UPDATE: Khanna responds on Twitter: “I was clear. I supported Hillary until Dec 2015 and switched to Sanders and supported him before June primary.”   Khanna did not respond to a follow-up question as to his public statements of his support for Sanders after December 2015.

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3 thoughts on “Ro Khanna to Justice Democrats: “I Endorsed Bernie Sanders.” Did he Lie? (Update: NO!)”

  1. I live in Fremont, California, and met Ro during during the Bernie campaign. My very first question was about Bernie, and Ro endorsed him immediately, I wasn’t live streaming, but there’s a photo of the event that I just tweeted at you. We are all with the Bernie cutout.

    Ro then stayed in touch with me after I became a Bernie delegate, named me as his delegate to Alameda County Central Committee, and he is one of the few DEM leaders who has been interested in the Bernie community in the entire Bay Area.

    1. Thanks. Even Khanna concedes, in this recent Mother Jones article (very good, by the way) that there are grounds for lefties (like me) to be suspicious. Here’s hoping he’s working on the Jesse Unruh theory of governance: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.” If so, Turner/Khanna 2020, I say!

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