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Transcript: Rep. Ro Khanna on "Face the Nation," March 3, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, that aired on March 3, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're joined now here by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. Good morning. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to have you here.

REP. KHANNA: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I imagine you support the decision to airdrop in aid to Gaza. But this is only happening because the- an ally of the United States, the largest recipient of US military aid in the world, was not allowing in the aid. And now that it is coming across the border, the distribution is a massive, logistically complicated and unsafe operation. Should there be consequences for standing in the way of U.S. humanitarian aid?

REP. KHANNA: Just Margaret, there should. I mean, we should make it clear that we're not going to continue to transfer weapons as I asked Secretary Austin at the hearing. But Margaret, look--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He didn't answer you. 

REP. KHANNA: He did not. But even you could tell from his testimony that he was concerned that we were continuing to transfer aid- well, we can't continue to transfer weapons, we can't continue to transfer weapons while we're transferring aid. That policy doesn't make sense. Here's the thing, look, the killing of over 100 Palestinians who were simply going to a food truck to get food, whether by a stampede or by shooting, we don't know all the facts, there should be an investigation, but that has shocked the conscience of the world. And my plea to this President, who I support deeply is, Mr. President, call for a permanent ceasefire. There's too much suffering, and the release of all hostages. The policy of bear hugging Netanyahu has not worked. Reach out to some of the former Obama officials like Ben Rhodes, Tommy Vietor, who have been saying we need a new direction of policy. We need a permanent ceasefire, release of hostages, we need to call for a Palestinian state, a summit with our Gulf allies. The current policy is not working. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe, truly, in an election year, that the President of the United States could be that head-on direct in criticizing the Prime Minister of Israel? 

REP. KHANNA: Yes. You know who was? President Obama. And he won two terms. And, you know, Ben Rhodes--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Which Mr. Biden didn't agree with when he was Vice President. 

REP. KHANNA: Well, Ben Rhodes, actually, he texted me this picture of Wisconsin in 2012, with the- two days before the election. And they were a sea of young people out there, a- hundreds of thousands of young people. We need that base. I don't think in the head-to-head polling this is the issue that is showing up. But I'll tell you, this is an issue for activists, this is an issue for organizers, this is an issue for young folks, and this is going to be a turnout election. And right now they want a new moral direction for our nation and for what's going on. Everyone agrees Hamas is a terrorist organization. What they did on October 7 is brutal. It should be condemned unequivocally. But the point is, now, it's time to get a permanent ceasefire and release of the hostages, and the President can do it, with one call he can do it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that- we'll see. But on what you just went to, from policy to politics. You are a Biden campaign surrogate-- 

REP. KHANNA: Proudly. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Proudly, you say. In announcing the air drops, I want to play this soundbite for you, because this is what President Biden said.


"In the coming days, we're going to join with our friends in Jordan and others in providing airdrops of — of additional food and supplies into Ukraine and seek to continue to open up other avenues into Ukraine, including the possibility of a marine corridor to deliver large amounts of humanitarian assistance."

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was a big decision. This was a big announcement. And the President of the United States twice got confused as to the country and place where the aid was being dropped. He said Ukraine twice. 

REP. KHANNA: He misspoke--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn't that concern you?

REP. KHANNA: I just misspoke earlier, when I said we need to stop transferring weapons, I said aid, i mean people misspeak on television. He misspoke--

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was the announcement of a major policy change. 

REP. KHANNA: Look I- here's the thing. I have been very direct and criticizing the President's policy in the Middle East. I have spoken with the president, he is fully coherent. He is on top of details when I have talked to him just a couple of weeks ago. My view is let's focus on policy. Let's focus on saving lives. And he'll have the opportunity to make the case about his age to the American people. But I have confidence in that part of it. I believe he- what he needs to do is to stop the killing, the suffering. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you are also talking about young voters and progressive voters and they see that. On the issue of the policy, in Michigan we saw these two efforts to essentially protest against Joe Biden by coming out and voting uncommitted. In Minnesota, another Super Tuesday state, there's a similar campaign underway. Are we going to see something like that in California as well? 

REP. KHANNA: There are efforts on uncommitted in California, a number other Super Tuesday states and in Wisconsin--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it significant?

REP. KHANNA: It's significant- I don't think- look, the President is winning overwhelmingly, and I don't–in the primaries–and I don't think this is going to affect his vote total, but it is going to affect his turnout and base. But Margaret, this is not just a political issue. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. Secretary Austin said over 25,000 dead. Our weapons are going there. There's starvation that's taking place. There are reports that 58,000 more Palestinians dead within six months if we don't have a ceasefire. The president can get this done. The disagreement is Hamas wants a four and a half month wait, Bibi Netanyahu doesn't want to have that long a cease fire. Get- have the president in there, get it done, become a peacemaker. Get- recognize a Palestinian state, a two state solution. And I think he can and I think he could win back young people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But just on the policy point, there aren't new authorities the President would need to halt those arms shipments. He has those authorities, he's choosing not to use them. 

REP. KHANNA: He hasn't been he could call for a ceasefire. He can stop protecting them at the UN there are a lot of levers--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he's choosing not to.

REP. KHANNA: And I'm hoping after this morning, he'll- he'll move in the direction of taking a new approach.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I point this out because also, back to the- the cynical politics of this, in our polling we see nearly twice as many Democrats rate Biden's presidency fair or poor compared with Republicans who say the same about Trump. The President is having a problem with his base. 

REP. KHANNA: And that's why I think he needs to do something bold-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is a problem. 

REP. KHANNA: This is a problem. But if he can turn it around, not just by calling for a ceasefire, if he becomes the first American President to convene Gulf allies, to convene Israel to convene municipal leaders in Palestine and civic society and said, I'm going to get this done. I'm going to recognize a Palestinian state, I'm going to have a two state solution, and I'm going to recognize that the security of Israel matters, that the end of occupation matters, he can become a hero. And this is- look, the President has had an amazing public service career. My plea to him, forget electoral politics, do this for people in the Middle East. It'll be a capstone to his legacy. I hope you'll meet with some of the progressive members of Congress to make that case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ro Khanna, good to have you here in studio. 

REP. KHANNA: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you, Congressman.

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