The news that US Congressman Ro Khanna is considering a run for a Senate seat has sparked rumours that he might be aiming for a presidential run.
Khanna is a Democratic Member of House of Representative, the lower chamber of the US Congress, from California state. He said in a recent interview that he would consider over next few months whether to run for compete in the Senate, the upper chamber of the US Congress.
"There are a lot of Bernie [Sanders] supporters and progressives who have reached out to me to encourage me to look at the race and what I’ve told them is I will do so over the next few months," said Khanna to Politico.
Khanna is a leading Progressive voice in the Democratic Party. He is influential in Indian-American circles and is often vocal on issues, ranging from the India-US relationship to the Ukraine War.
Politico reported that it's believed that Khanna might be aiming at a presidential run in 2028 or even in 2024 if President Joe Biden decides to not seek reelection. Though he has said he intends to run again.
Here we explain who is Ro Khanna, what we know of his potential presidential run, and what's known of his politics so far.
Who is US Congressman Ro Khanna?
Ro Khanna is a leading figure in the Democratic Party's Progressive wing.
Khanna currently serves as the Member of House of Representatives, the lower chamber of US Congress, from California state. This is his fourth term.
Khanna is an Indian-American whose parents migrated to the United States in 1970s. His grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar was a freedom fighter who participated in the Indian Independence movement along side Mahatma Gandhi and Lala Lajpat Rai.
"Rep. Khanna’s commitment to public service was inspired by his grandfather who was active in Gandhi’s independence movement, worked with Lala Lajpat Rai in India, and spent several years in jail for promoting human rights," says Khanna's biography on his Congressional website.
Khanna is deeply involved with the Democratic Party's Progressive politics. He currently serves as Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and serves as an Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus. A caucus is a group of lawmakers who come together for a common cause.
Khanna is also involved with causes like boosting US industry, improving healthcare, climate change, and human rights.
Khanna's biography says, "Representative Ro Khanna is a leading progressive voice in the House working to restore American manufacturing and technology leadership, improve the lives of working people, and advance U.S. leadership on climate, human rights, and diplomacy around the world.
"He is committed to using his position to advance a foreign policy of military restraint and diplomatic engagement. Instead of spending trillions on wars overseas, Khanna believes we should invest in priorities at home like Medicare for All, affordable childcare and free public college and vocational school. To pay for his own higher education, he took out over $100,000 dollars in student loans and as a member of Congress he has called for student loan debt forgiveness – the more, the better."
Khanna is also associated with the caucuses focussed on India and Pakistan. While he champions a closer India-US relationship and has worked for legislation benefitting India, he has also come under criticism from some quarters for closeness with Pakistan and his comments on Indian government policies.
What's known of Ro Khanna's presidential bid?
So far, it's only known that Khanna is considering a Senate run. On his part, he denied to Politico that he is considering a presidential run.
However, Politico reported that there are indications that Khanna is preparing for a presidential run.
Politico reported, "Those close to Khanna say he’s keeping his options open ahead of a potential presidential run in 2028 or beyond. But others in his orbit are talking about an even more compressed timeline: running in 2024 if President Joe Biden decided not to."
A Democratic election strategist also said Khanna is a "very plausible" candidate for US presidency.
"I think he would be a great United States senator. But I also think, should Biden decide not to run, I think he’s a very plausible candidate for president of the United States. So I think that those decisions are yet to be made," said Mark Longabaugh to Politico, a Democratic strategist whose firm was earlier a consultant of Khanna.
Politico also reported that Khanna has toured some important states and has raised issues that would be key to his potential presidential bid. He has also criticised his potential rivals recently, such as Biden's Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Ro Khanna and the Indian-American politics
Ro Khanna is from the several prominent US leaders of Indian heritage.
After Rishi Sunak became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, there is a renewed excitement over the possibility of a US President of Indian heritage.
Khanna is part of the India caucus and has been vocal on India-US affairs. Last year, he campaigned for an amendment that would help India seek a waiver from possible sanctions for buying Russian heavy weaponry. He said it was the "most consequential vote in the House of Representatives in strengthening the US-India relationship since the civilian nuclear deal".
Khanna acknowledged that his Progressive wing is critical of India over the Narendra Modi-led Indian government's human rights record. But he also said that the criticism can be overcome, just like overcame it in getting the sanction waiver amendment cleared.
"I don’t want to name specific names, but some people in the progressive caucus were lobbying against this amendment being ruled because of their concerns with India. We were able to overcome that, in part, because people trust me as a voice on human rights, as a voice on pluralism and as a strong progressive. So I think being a progressive who championed this helped overcome those objections," said Khanna to Hindustan Times.
Khanna also said that his intention is not to mere lip-service and issue press releases but to actually improve US-India relationship.
He told HT, "And as a lawmaker, my goal is to deepen and strengthen the US-India relationship, not simply rhetorically, but substantively. And a lot of the work I have been doing is to lay the foundation of having that outcome."
However, Khanna has also attracted criticism for his comments on the Indian stand on Ukraine War and his joining the Pakistan caucus.
In 2019, Khanna met the then-Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
He said, "Honored to meet PM Imran Khan. We spoke Hindustani and I shared that my grandfather, an Indian freedom fighter with Gandhi, always had a hope for reconciliation. South Asian Americans of my generation hope for peace in the subcontinent in the 21st century."
In March 2022, Khanna said India was "clearly in the wrong" when it abstained in a United Nations vote against Russia over Ukraine War.
Sharing a newspaper clip, Khanna tweeted, "A few Indians do not like that I have vocally criticised India for abstaining from condemning Putin’s horrific murder of mother and children. My job is to stand up for America & human rights, not be an apologist for India when they are clearly in the wrong."
Later in July, however, Khanna also commented on the Indian purchase of Russian oil but said he was not against it. But he added that India should be part of the Western framework over the issue of Russian oil.
He told HT, "I have said that India should have condemned Russia at the UN. But I don’t think that they can ignore their own population’s needs on energy. And I have never said that they can’t be buying Russian oil. I hope they would be part of an international system that we are trying to establish as the US to have some maximum price to collectively purchase from Russia so that everyone benefits and they should be part of that framework. But, long term, my hope is that we can provide the security guarantee that gets them to lessen their dependence on Russian defence."
Khanna also addressed the criticism over joining the Pakistan caucus and highlighted that his place in both India and Pakistan places him in a better position.
"Being part of both caucuses allows me to be more effective in promoting US interests in the region and strengthening the US-India relationship. Although I do not believe that the US should intervene in bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, I do hope ultimately we will see peace in the subcontinent which will help both nations and the world," said Khanna, as per India Abroad.
Khanna also listed his actions aligning with the Indian causes and his commitment to the India-US relationship.
India Abroad quoted Khanna as saying, "I have been very involved in strengthening the U.S.-India partnership, and I am working on legislation to make sure India has a defense relationship similar to NATO countries.
"I am also working with John Lewis (D-Ga) on the legislation commemorating Mahatma Gandhi and having a scholarship fund to promote his teachings of non-violence. There is also legislation condemning the terrorist attacks on Kashmir (Pulwama) that I have co-sponsored, and I have attended events with the US-India Business Council to see how we can promote our exports and trade which will create jobs in the US."
The clout of Indian-Americans
Indian-Americans have emerged as an influential bloc in the United States in recent decades.
With economic prosperity, Indian-Americans have also become influential in US politics. Several politicians have emerged from amongst them, such as Pramila Jayapal and Nikki Haley, and observers have said that Kamala’s swearing in as Vice President marked the ‘coming of age’ of the community. Campaign groups such as Republican Hindu Coalition have also emerged, though the bloc has traditionally sided with Democrats.
“With an estimated 1.8 million eligible voters, Indian-Americans form a tinier than tiny part of the US electorate. But they look heftier because of their weighted equity in battleground — also called swing — states won or lost by slim margins in close contests. Just three of them swung it for Trump in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; by 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8 percentage points respectively,” reported Hindustan Times.