Transcript: Rep. Ro Khanna on "Face the Nation," May 5, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, that aired on May 5, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re joined now by California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, good to have you here. And you’ve been, I know, visiting college campuses across the country, in Michigan, Nevada, and the Biden campaign recently sent you to Wisconsin. Are we at the point now where the protesters are becoming a story unto themselves and a distraction from the issues that they’re protesting?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): No, I don’t think so. I mean, in Wisconsin, the issues that came up first were abortion rights. Second, the cost of living and what the President was going to do on student loans, and for housing and rent. Gaza came up. But you know, one of the conversations in Madison with Jewish Americans and Arab Americans was extraordinarily civil, thoughtful and constructive. So I think in a lot of campuses, there are 4,000 of them in the United States, there is actually constructive dialogue taking place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the president isn’t doing those kind of listening sessions. Why?

REP. KHANNA: I think the president should and will get out there on campuses. I- I think–

MARGARET BRENNAN: — He gets shouted down “genocide Joe”, when he goes to events.

REP. KHANNA: And look, that’s part of protest. I condemn any protests that incites violence, or that is antisemitic. As someone whose grandfather spent four years in jail with Gandhi. I mean, the whole point of satyagraha was nonviolent protest. We have to understand that this is a defining moment for this generation, similar to anti-Vietnam protests, anti-apartheid protests, anti-Iraq War protests. And they’re telling us that 30- over 30,000 people have died. It’s time for this war to end. It’s time for the hostages to be released that Hamas has, and they want to see leadership in America and around the world. This is not the world that they want.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the president, though, has said the protests aren’t making him change his policy. He is unequivocally pro-Israel. It was a month ago, he said something had to change or U.S. policy would. Do you expect any change in U.S. policy as a result?

REP. KHANNA: I do. And I slightly disagree. I think the- the protests and the larger movement have had the president change. I mean, you look at the president now talking about some of the consequences that could have on Netanyahu, the Erez canal- the Erez opening open, the United States didn’t veto the ceasefire resolution in the United Nations after three attempts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And then said that it was non-binding. 

REP. KHANNA: And said not binding, but at least- look, everyone from the president on down is aware that young people are upset at what’s going on in the Middle East. And I- I do think it’s had an awakening in Washington, that this war has to end, that too many people are dying. And if you look at the president’s language, it’s certainly shifted over the last six months. Now, some of us want there to be consequences.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. And this week, we know there’s this May 8 deadline for the administration to provide a report about whether Israel and other recipients of U.S. military aid are using those weapons in accordance with law and whether or not they’re blocking humanitarian aid. Is this going to be an honest accounting?

REP. KHANNA: I hope so. There’s an independent task force that has in- issued the report as well. And- already–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –They are trying to prebut–

REP. KHANNA: –To prebut–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –What the administration may put out, because they are pretty clear in that non-government report that they do think there are violations.

REP. KHANNA: Yeah, so let’s be nuanced about what the report says because it’s actually very thoughtful. They say, look, the Hamas attacks on October 7 were brutal, unjustified. Then they say there are tunnels underground in Gaza, but they say you can’t go destroying residential buildings just because there’s a tunnel because under international law, you can’t have disproportionate civilian harm. And they detail cases where that happens. They detail cases where residential buildings were destroyed without any military target. So my expectation is that the State Department report needs to have that kind of nuance and detail and if it doesn’t, you’re gonna have people asking why in Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So while you were talking about very specific policy changes for very specific allegations, you also see at some of these protests, things that are mixed in there, either outside agitators or extreme rhetoric. Your democratic colleague, Elissa Slotkin, was just tweeting about this protest at GW University. She said there were individuals shouting guillotine- guillotine and having a mock trial of school administrators. She says that creates a climate of fear for Jewish students. What’s being lost here in the conversation?

REP. KHANNA: Well, she’s right. I mean, you can’t be shouting “guillotine, guillotine.” You can’t be shouting “globalize the Intifada” or “Zionists don’t deserve to live.” What’s being lost is that those few protesters who are inciting violence or engaging in that kind of antisemitism are diminishing the thousands of young people who simply want the war to end. And I guess I would say look to John Lewis or Dr. King. They in their protests were above reproach. If some individual engaged in bigotry, they call them out first and loudly. So I’m proud of a lot of the young people who want to end the war, but they need to show the discipline and some universities have. Look at Cornell, look at University of Minnesota, look at what’s happening at Northwestern. There have been efforts not to have the police in, to have dialogue with the student protesters, to have much more peace and calm, and there are models for what can work in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, it’s always interesting to hear from you.

REP. KHANNA: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for telling us what you’re seeing out there on college campuses. We’ll be back in a moment.

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