Ro Khanna


Democrat most likely to succeed with Trump? Bay Area progressive Ro Khanna

Tal Kopan Dec. 4, 2020 Updated: Dec. 4, 2020 4 a.m.

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Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, speaks during the news conference in the Capitol on Jan. 9, 2020.

Photo: Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

WASHINGTON — Known for his aggressively progressive politics, Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna has earned an unexpected distinction among his California Democratic colleagues in the House: most likely to have a bill signed by President Trump.

In fact, Khanna lags behind only one Republican lawmaker from California in having bills signed by Trump — and is likely to tie the mark by the end of the year.

It’s a sign of the two sides of the Bay Area Democrat’s politics. Khanna’s progressive positions stand out even among the liberal Bay Area delegation, and he co-chaired the considerably left-of-center presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But he also prides himself on being a capitalist and pragmatist who can find common ground with lawmakers from ruby red Republican districts.

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Trump signed Khanna’s fourth bill to become law since 2017 on Thursday, in a private Oval Office ceremony that Khana attended. The Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act was co-sponsored by Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, when he was in Congress representing North Carolina. It mandates the creation of a program to promote newer technology in the federal government.

Khanna’s other laws signed by Trump include one to modernize federal websites, one to make it easier to create apprenticeships for veterans, and one to study barriers that National Guard and reserve forces face in accessing disability and pension benefits.

“I’m very, very proud of being able to get things done and have four bills signed by Trump,” Khanna told The Chronicle. “One of the unfair criticism of progressives is, are we effective and can we get things done? Here you have a progressive who was co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and I’ve shown that I can work across the aisle and get things done.”

Khanna’s tally trails only one other California lawmaker of either party, former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster (Los Angeles County), who had five bills signed by Trump before he was ousted in the 2018 election. It even exceeds that of GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who has had three bills make it to the White House for Trump’s signature.

Khanna was also instrumental in the passage of a war powers resolution to limit U.S. involvement in the conflict in Yemen, which passed Congress but failed to overcome a Trump veto.

A fifth bill of Khanna’s won final congressional approval Thursday, and Trump is expected to sign it. The measure would name a post office in Cupertino for a decorated Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, a South Bay native who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005.

Khanna admits that none of his bills was groundbreaking, but he says they are nonetheless meaningful. He cited Trump’s signing ceremony Thursday for the government technology bill, one of the few such events the president has held since losing his bid for re-election, as a sign that such legislation is significant.

“If someone were to say, ‘You haven’t had an achievement like (Speaker Nancy) Pelosi’s Affordable Care Act,’ I’d say, ‘Of course I haven’t,’ ” Khanna said. “But I would argue that I have substantive bills that have passed and made a difference.”

Khanna pointed to his 21st Century IDEA Act, which requires that federal websites be designed with users’ experience in mind, much like Silicon Valley businesses’ are. Having functional government websites, he says, can pay dividends.

“Then we can increase people’s trust in government and participation in government. That to me is very consequential,” Khanna said. “You have to have people be confident in government, that they can run things.”

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His efforts have also brought the progressive lawmaker into close cooperation with Republicans, including Meadows. Khanna attended a White House signing ceremony for the IDEA Act in 2018 with Trump, two months before signing on as co-chair of Sanders’ campaign, during which the Vermont independent labeled the president as a racist, sexist and xenophobe.

Although he is one of the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and voted to impeach Trump in 2019, Khanna said it would be a “dereliction of my duty” to refuse to work with a president — any president — to pass legislation.

“I have a deep progressive commitment ... but I also have a constituency with Silicon Valley that people across the aisle are interested in,” Khanna said. “They understand the need for 21st century job creation and modernizing our nation’s digital infrastructure.

“I try to make the disagreements policy-focused. I don’t attack people personally. I’ve never compromised my principles, but I look for building coalitions where I can find them.”

The success of those alliances and the bipartisan support for his vetoed legislation on Yemen are the achievements he is proudest of in his four years in Congress, Khanna said.

“That in my view has to be part of the progressive brand,” he said. “That we have ideals and bold visions, but we are also capable of executing that vision.”

Tal Kopan is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: Twitter: @talkopan

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