Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) speaks to union members and their supporters outside of Netflix and Warner Bros.' office in New York City, where striking actors and writers were picketing.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wants Democrats to do more to curb political corruption ― and he believes that President Joe Biden’s reelection could depend on it.
If the president is wondering where to start, the Silicon Valley progressive introduced what he’s calling his “5-point, comprehensive political reform” platform on Friday.
Khanna proposes banning candidates for federal office from receiving donations from lobbyists or political action committees of any kind, banning members of Congress from trading stocks, limiting Supreme Court appointees to 18-year terms, imposing 12-year term limits on members of Congress, and requiring federal judges and Supreme Court justices to adhere to a new and more robust code of ethics.
Virtually none of the proposals are novel on their own. In previous Congresses, Khanna introduced a bipartisan bill capping congressional tenures at 12 years, and another bill capping Supreme Court tenures at 18 years. He is also a co-sponsor of a current bipartisan bill barring members of Congress from stock trades, and a Democratic bill that would forbid federal judges and Supreme Court justices from gifts and financial investments that pose conflicts of interest.
On an individual level, Khanna has already complied with his first proposed reform, voluntarily declining to receive lobbyist and PAC donations, including those that come from progressive PACs.
But Khanna told HuffPost that he is introducing the slate of reforms now, as a package, to inspire Biden and other Democrats to take action.
“There is a sense on both the left and the right of a crisis of confidence in institutions ― whether that is the Congress or the Executive Branch or the Court. That level of anger has led to a rejection of politics ― an anti-politics, which has created an opening for all kind of demagoguery and sensationalism to fill the void,” Khanna said. “Unless the Democrats offer a bold vision of reform that we campaign on and deliver on when we win, it’s going to become harder and harder to prevent sensational and demagogue-type figures from filling that void.”
What we cannot allow to happen is for a former president ― twice impeached and four times indicted ― to position himself as the outsider in the race.Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)
One of those demagogues is former President Donald Trump, who continues to cast himself as an anti-establishment reformer, according to Khanna.
“What we cannot allow to happen is for a former president ― twice impeached and four times indicted ― to position himself as the outsider in the race,” Khanna said.
Given the ambitious nature of some of his proposed reforms, and Democratic fears of being punished for disarming unilaterally from the campaign fundraising arms race, Khanna welcomes incremental steps toward his vision. For example, he wants the Democratic National Committee to forswear corporate PAC donations ahead of the 2024 election, and for Democratic candidates not to accept the support of super PACs during Democratic primaries.
Khanna cited the experience of former Rhode Island state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a progressive who lost a special Democratic primary election on Tuesday for an open congressional seat. Regunberg, whom Khanna endorsed, received super PAC support from his father-in-law, a wealthy financial executive. The support itself ― a $125,000 direct-mail campaign ― was not that significant.
But it muddied Regunberg’s progressive image by forcing him to publicly reconcile the initiative with his commitment to rooting money out of politics. In the process, Regunberg incorrectly denied the past existence of a “red box” on his website designed to communicate with super PACs without directly coordinating.
“Aaron Regunberg would have been better off without the super PAC,” Khanna said. “It probably ended up hurting him more than it helped him.”
Khanna, a proponent of what he calls a “new economic patriotism,” is one of several Democrats in Congress who hope that Biden’s focus on reshoring manufacturing jobs and revitalizing organized labor can help the party reconnect with working-class voters it has been losing in the industrial midwest. Earlier this summer, Khanna embarked on a listening tour of struggling industrial towns in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Now he says that a strong case for political reform is a necessary complement to the “Bidenomics” agenda.
“It’s going to help us at a time where the polling shows that we need work,” Khanna said. “You’re talking about the two things that are gonna matter: it’s the economy and it’s political reform.”
“It would show people that we are different ― that we actually want to get to the institutions that are broken, and that haven’t been working for a lot of people,” he added.
Asked whether his demands were actually realistic, Khanna insisted that Biden has shown an ability to adapt.
“Biden has moved left on other issues, why doesn’t he adopt a political reform agenda? It would be a breath of fresh air,” he said.