Rep. Ro Khanna: Democrats Must Support Medicare for All

As the Democratic National Convention kicks off virtually in Milwaukee, we speak with Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna, who says he will be voting “no” on the Democratic platform because it does not support Medicare for All. Khanna, who served as national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, says ensuring universal health care is crucial for the Democratic Party, especially during a pandemic. “I am very enthusiastic about supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to defeat Donald Trump, but I cannot vote for this platform that does not have universal healthcare as a right,” says Khanna.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The DNC, Democratic National Convention, officially kicks off tonight with a focus on the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, the national uprising to demand racial justice. The lineup includes speeches from former first lady Michelle Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. Joe Biden will also speak in a short video about racial justice. This comes as The Daily Beast reports there are no Muslim speakers in the DNC’s primetime lineup this week, and only a handful of Latinx voices. There are a number of Republicans; John Kasich will be speaking tonight.

Congressman Khanna, you published a column on Common Dreams titled “Why I Am Voting No on the Democratic Party Platform.” You write, “History teaches us that the Democratic Party has sometimes faced an issue so great that it alone should be the yardstick for measuring the wisdom of voting for or against the platform. This is one of those times. … I believe that moving away from a profit-based healthcare system is the moral issue of our time. And in the final analysis, because of that belief, I could not vote for a platform that lacks a clear statement supporting Medicare for All.” Explain.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I am very enthusiastic about supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to defeat Donald Trump, but I cannot vote for this platform that does not have universal healthcare as a right.

I mean, we’ve seen millions of people lose their jobs. They should not lose their healthcare. This, to me, is about basic dignity. How can you say that a person’s healthcare should be tied to whether they have a job or their employment? This was part of our platform until 1980. It was stripped during the Reagan revolution. If we can’t come around and say we are for Medicare for All in a time of a pandemic, I don’t know when we will.

And so, I’m very proud that hundreds of delegates are going to vote against this platform, while supporting Joe Biden. And I think that’s a great strength of the Democratic Party, that you can have intellectual dissent and yet have a common goal.

AMY GOODMAN: There is interesting language on Medicare for All. It says, “We are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All approach; all are critical to ensuring that health care is a human right.” Do you think that if Biden were to win, although he has adamantly said he’s opposed to Medicare for All, the movements for Medicare for All — I mean, the polls show most people support this — could change him? Kamala Harris has gone back and forth on this. She said — she co-sponsored the Medicare for All bill.

REP. RO KHANNA: I do think it can change him, and especially if people who look at Bernie Sanders’s plan realize that it’s a four-year transition. I mean, Bernie Sanders isn’t saying go to Medicare for All in one year; he’s saying let’s extend it to 55, then 45, then 35. There’s a carve-out for unions. So, I think what is very possible, if we continue to advocate, that we can get the president, Biden, on year one, to say let’s extend it at least to 55 or 50, and then make progress from there. And that is why this activism is so important.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the DNC platform committee members overwhelmingly voting against proposed language that would oppose illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and support conditioning U.S. aid if Israel moves toward annexation of the West Bank. Your thoughts on this?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I think we needed to make it very clear that those settlements are illegal, that any annexation is illegal. And in the past, again, there has been always the American president’s ability to say that we aren’t going to provide aid to Israel when it contradicts our policy interests or human rights. We did this — I mean, Reagan did this when Israel bombed Iraq. There was a restriction on aid. Other presidents have done it. George Bush Sr. did it on loan guarantees. So, this is not something far out from our party’s tradition.

And I do think there needs to be a clear statement on Palestinian rights. I think we need to speak out more clearly with the UAE-Israel agreement. I mean, it’s a good thing anytime countries are at peace, but that cannot be at the expense of Palestinian rights. UAE, as you know, has been responsible, in part, for the Yemen bombing. And there has to be clarity that there’s no annexation, and clarity that both countries are going to be recognizing Palestinian rights. Palestinians can’t be the collateral damage of great power politics in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Khanna, you are calling for a bill that would make free masks available to all. You also have written a letter, along with Congressman Adam Schiff, to the leadership, requesting mask-related provisions in any COVID-19 pandemic relief package. Explain.

REP. RO KHANNA: The data is so clear that mask usage will help prevent the spread of coronavirus. And we’ve seen in other countries where there have had — where there have been universal masks, in Taiwan, in South Korea, they have done very well in dealing with this pandemic.

So, what we are saying is we should be giving every person who wants them masks. This is our responsibility. When I go vote in the United States Congress, they give me a mask. Why can’t every worker who’s doing that have that option? It, A, serves as a reminder to them about the importance, and, B, it makes sure that they have these masks if they’re doing jobs that are putting them at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Senator Harris, the new VP, the presumptive VP nominee, from your state, California, she is also, like you, Indian American, as well as African American, Caribbean American. Your thoughts?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s a matter of great pride. I mean, her story is so inspiring. Her mother, an immigrant from India. My parents were immigrants. And the fact that she could, through sheer hard work and public service, rise up and today be hopefully the next vice president of the United States is inspirational. And it is a glimpse into our multiracial, multiethnic future — a total difference than Donald Trump.

I will say one thing on the total obliviousness to history that Donald Trump and people there have shown. I mean, Trump’s favorite president is Andrew Jackson, who has a very checkered history and record. But Jackson was the son of two immigrants. His brothers were born in foreign countries. So, to be attacking Kamala Harris is not just racist, it actually displays an ignorance about American history.

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Democratic congressmember from California, member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Next, we are going to speak with a formerly homeless African American Black Lives Matter activist. Her name is Cori Bush. She just won the Democratic primary in Missouri after defeating 10-term Congressmember Lacy Clay in a major primary upset in St. Louis. Stay with us.