Dozens arrived early and waited patiently to shake his hand. The room was thick with excitement, as the crowd gathered in a small, packed auditorium Friday night at a town hall in Alviso to hear Rep. Ro Khanna, the second-term Democrat from Silicon Valley, give his monthly address to voters.
The congressman was met with wide applause from his base, as he commemorated local LGBTQ advocates and politicians such as former Supervisor Ken Yeager, updated the audience on his current legislative priorities and answered questions, quelling some concerns about the current presidential administration.
For some, the chance to speak to their representative was cathartic, following some of President Donald Trump’s policy decisions that Democrats say harms immigrant and minority communities. At Friday’s meeting Khanna made a broad effort to ensure that he’s fighting the good fight as he battles “tough times” in Washington.
While the congressman answered a wide range of questions on immigration, foreign policy, impeachment and gun control, he consistently circled back to a central theme: The president must be held accountable.
“It is shameful that the depths of which public discourse has sunk because of this president,” said Khanna. “We in Congress have an obligation to hold this president accountable for not just obstruction, the inability and unwillingness to answer congressional subpoenas, but for policies that he’s undertaking. It’s a policy of inhumanity.”
Still, when asked about impeachment, Khanna said “evidence” is needed and that Congress needs the full Mueller report before he can reach a decision.
“You can’t move forward with a summary, you need actual evidence. There are 58 Democrats who have said that they would vote against,” said Khanna, referencing a resolution to impeach the president. “They don’t believe impeachment is justified. If a resolution fails, what signal will that send to the president?”
Two speakers — immigrants from China and Iran — expressed concern about Trump’s views of immigrants, specifically certain policies such as the travel ban and rising tensions with countries in the Middle East.
Firaz Mirzaei, an immigrant from Iran, said he was worried about a potential conflict with Iran. If a war between the two countries ensues, “thousands of young boys and girls will put their lives for this country and they will never come back home. Hundreds of thousands of civilians will die, creating wounds that will take generations to heal.”
Khanna believes it’s important to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq.
“It’s not in our strategic interests,” said Khanna. “Iran doesn’t pose a terrorist threat, so what are we doing getting bogged down in these wars? It’s not in our national interest. We’re going to make sure that the Democrats are unified in opposing (a war).”
Khanna, an Indian-American, expressed deep disdain for the president’s stance on immigration — specifically policies such as the travel ban and separating children from parents at the border.
“They are basically discriminating based on religion and nationality. It’s not just morally wrong, it’s also not strategic,” added Khanna. “We need to be resilient and persevere because we’re fighting for the soul of our nation.”
Teresa Hernandez, 61, a school teacher at George Mayne Elementary School where the event was held, said she used to vote for former Rep. Mike Honda, but felt that he was largely inaccessible and didn’t “listen to the community.”
She said she voted for Khanna because he listens to diverse voices in his district and to teachers who care about issues like gun control and safety.
“It (gun control) is very important to every teacher in America,” said Hernandez, a teacher for more than 39 years. “I’ve experienced an armed gunman on campus at an elementary school. It’s scary.”
While many topics were raised, Huy Tran — a contender in San Jose’s District 4 City Council race and opponent to incumbent Lan Diep — said he wanted the congressman to weigh in on the housing crisis and building affordable housing, one of the region’s most talked-about issues, but time ran out before he was able to ask the question.
“We’re destroying our own communities all for chasing economic gains without thinking about the human cost,” said Tran, adding that he believes the South Bay needs more federal resources to address the problem.
Khanna, who identifies as a “progressive capitalist,” has raised eyebrows by some Democrats who think his free-market enterprise mindset and close ties to some of tech’s most affluent political donors has put him at odds with the Democratic Party’s ideals.
While Khanna said he backs Medicare for All and supports strong climate change initiatives, he’s been shy to speak out against breaking up the tech industry. Khanna, who was tapped in February to serve as a campaign co-chair and top adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders in his 2020 presidential run, introduced the Vermont senator at a San Jose rally last week.
“If I had the opportunity, I’d love to sit down with him and ask how we can balance the growth of the tech sector with the costs it’s imposing on communities in the sense of increased traffic, cost of living,” Tran added. “We can see the impacts it has across the board.”
Tran says he admires the congressman for “telling it like it is.”
“You know he’s speaking from his values,” said Tran. “He’s not going to hide the hard truths that we have to face.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.