Khanna v Pallone: Conflict Between Stalwarts in the Indian-American Community

Frank Pallone and Ro Khanna

WASHINGTON,D.C. — A David and Goliath battle seems to be brewing as the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to convene.

An incensed Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who will begin his second term in the 116th Congress scheduled to come to order on Jan.3, 2019, has publicly lashed out against the 15-term Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) — founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans — for allegedly torpedoing his bill to explore the economic impact of broadband Internet, solely because of what he’s convinced is Pallone’s sheer pettiness and personal vindictiveness toward him (Khanna).

In a series of tweets on Dec. 21, just after the Congress adjourned for the Christmas recess, Khanna said, “Frank Pallone is saying he won’t move a Khanna bill. Why? Nothing to do with the policy. He is upset that I am supporting a Green New Deal and encroaching on his turf.”

Khanna said that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.) and he “have a bill that passed the Senate unanimously to bring broadband to rural America,” but Pallone — who is considered a time tested friend of India and the Indian-American community and represents a district in New Jersey with a significant Indian and South Asian community--was blocking his bill because he (Khanna) had been among the first group of lawmakers to sign the Green New Deal of incoming fellow progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.-N.Y.).

In another tweet, rubbing it in, Khanna said, “Even President Trump has signed two of my bills. Put aside the petty politics Mr. Pallone. Put aside the careerism. Support policies good for rural America and support policies to tackle climate change. These causes are bigger than any politician’s personal power.”

“I realize that NJ is highly wired, but millions of Americans, in rural states, need broadband access. It’s not just about NJ, this is about the country. Do your job,” he added.

In Feb. Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, along with Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Ryan Costello (R-PA) introduced a bipartisan bill, the Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act, to require the Bureau of Economic Analysis to conduct a study of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy. The legislation empowers policymakers to make more informed decisions about broadband, connecting underserved communities and keeping America competitive in a digital world.

They said that the internet is an integral component of our country’s economy and infrastructure, and this expanding access to quality broadband internet is a potential driver for development and progress.

However, despite its importance, they complained that the Federal government does not currently measure the impact of broadband on the U.S. economy, as it does for many other industries.

The lack of current, reliable, and accurate data diminishes the decision-making ability of policymakers, business leaders, research institutions, and trade groups, the lawmakers said, and noted their bill highlights this issue and would make such data available.

“Broadband connectivity is no longer a privilege, it is a fundamental necessity in society, and Congress needs to ensure that all communities, from Appalachia to Cupertino, have reliable access to the internet, regardless of geography or income,” said Khanna.

He said, “In order to do this, policymakers must have data that tells us just how broadband impacts our economy. The Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act ensures that we are informed so the internet can be improved for American consumers and businesses.”

Klobuchar, among the dozens of Democrats, rumored to be a 2020 presidential contender, co-sponsored the legislation on the Senate side and it was approved unanimously in early December.

In an exclusive interview with India Abroad, Khanna said that since Pallone would be the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which would have jurisdiction over his bipartisan bill he had approached the senior Democrat and requested him to move the legislation, but that Pallone had brushed aside his request indicating that it had not gone through the appropriate procedural channels.

“First (Democratic leader) Nancy Pelosi asked me to do the Internet Bill of Rights and Pallone was very upset about that and he couldn’t understand why a freshman member of Congress was getting that role and someone not on his Committee.”

Consequently, Khanna said, “He already didn’t appreciate anyone challenging his turf—very territorial.”

“But, I thought, Ok, that’s how Congress works but I was surprised that here’s a young Indian American and he should have been happy and thrilled and he’s a senior member and it would have been a win-win.”

Khanna said, “He could have said he supports my effort and invite me to even his district or come to my district and show that he’s mentoring the next generation of Indian Americans.”

“But, he had told Pelosi that he’s (Khanna) is not on the Committee and then he had said, ‘Maybe when the Committee considers this, maybe we could let him sit in as part of the discussion.”

Khanna said that had not spoken out publicly earlier because “I though Ok, this is politics, and I’ll just keep going. But, then I supported Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and I heard he got more upset because he doesn’t want Energy and Commerce (Committee) to lose any jurisdiction,” over anything to do with climate change legislation.

“So, Pallone doesn’t want a new committee and I think he resents the fact that I am supporting it. But, I still didn’t say anything publicly, and then the Klobuchar bill passes unanimously in the Senate and I go to Pallone and I say, this is just a bill to study the positive impact of broadband in rural America.”

Khanna said he had also told Pallone that the bill “also had a lot of co-sponsors, including Anna Eshoo, the number two person in the Energy and Commerce Committee and that you are putting through all these other bills, can you please put this bill through.”

“But he made some ‘procedural excuse’ and said that ‘you have to do this in regular order and I am not going to short-circuit the regular order for this this.”

Khanna said that he had then had Eshoo and other co-sponsors request Pallone and try and convince him, “but he didn’t do anything.”

Sources confirmed that Klobuchar’s Senate staff had also called Pallone’s staff requesting that Khanna’s bill be put through but had been told, “We are not going to move Khanna bills.”

Khanna said, “That’s when I got pissed and I said, ‘Ok, that is going too far –you are not even making a procedural excuse, and here you are pretending to be a friend of the Indian American community.”

“Pramila (Jayapal, who represents Washington state) and I are up-and-coming Indian American politicians and he (Pallone) should be taking us under his wing and supporting us, and instead he the most animated in blocking my bill—it’s absurd,” he said.

Jayapal and Khanna were recently elected the co-chair and vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has served notice that its members are not going to be deferential but are going to take on the party establishment and strongly press for transparency.

Pallone’s office did not react to Khanna’s tweets or his allegations, and sources close to Pallone said that he’s unlikely to respond do Khanna’s angst.

In the interview, Khanna, acknowledged that his having the chutzpah to publicly challenge Pallone was perhaps a manifestation of the young progressives among the Democrats willing to take on the entrenched establishment, including the likes of Pallone, whom he argued seem to “have an attitude that these new members are not going to dictate the agenda, but that they have to first get their blessings and they have to kiss their ring, if you will.”

He said that Pallone condescendingly dismissing his bill and refusing to move it was “surely part of it—as to ‘Who’s this guy,’ and that ‘he’s a freshman and why is he doing the Internet Bill of Rights.’”

“That’s he not even on the Committee and now, who is he to be pushing some bill in the Committee. That ‘I run the show and he should come talk to me.’”

Khanna reiterated that “I am sure that all of that is part of it.”

“But I was very polite to him and I would have hoped he would have been a mentor and supported me as a second term Congressman and he’s been there 30 years and he always says he wants to promote and mentor Indian Americans, and that he helps Indian Americans.”

Asked what his next move would be if Pallone simply ignores him or dismisses his tweets and statements and simply a case of a junior member ranting and raving, Khanna said, “I don’t think he affects me in anyway—I’ve passed two bills that the President has signed and a few days ago(on Dec. 20) I was in the White House Oval Office for the signing ceremony,” requiring federal agencies to modernize their websites.

He also said that soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi has given him the responsibility to work on the Internet Bill of Rights “and so, I will still have a huge role and impact. But, it’s just unfortunate that Pallone is being so very petty.”

Khanna said, “If he didn’t like me for whatever reason and he wanted to not support me for a Committee assignment or not vote for me for leadership, that would be perfectly within the bounds.”

“But to hold up legislation that has been passed unanimously by the Senate over something this petty and especially when he’s said he wants to mentor Indian Americans and he presents himself as a close friend of the community, shows him up for what he really is,” he added.

Earlier, Khanna had told The HuffPost that he had also witnessed Pallone mocking the direct action tactics of the young Sunrise Movement protesters who had inundated Capitol Hill to press for a Green New Deal.

“He was laughing about it in the elevator,” Khanna recalled. “It was very condescending.”

The HuffPost noted that Pallone, who is a member of Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee, which is responsible for deciding committee assignments, gives him some ammunition with which to retaliate against Khanna, who is seeking a spot on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and spending policies.

“It’s been easier to get Donald Trump to move my legislation than Frank Pallone,” Khanna said.

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