Kamala Harris may be the most high-profile person of Indian-origin in the United States of America at the moment, but she is hardly the only one. US President Joe Biden’s administration has a total of 20 Indian-Americans, 17 of whom are in key White House roles. And across town in Washington DC, a quartet of members of the US House of Representatives of Indian-origin have all been re-elected.
They are called the ‘samosa caucus’. The term was coined by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, referrng to himself as well as three others – Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna. All four are Democrats, and they once counted Harris, who was a Senator, among their ranks.
Even before the presidential election, Indian-Americans were in the limelight as one of the most influential voting blocs in the country.
A few other Indian-Americans, like Hiral Tipirneni and Sri Preston Kulkarni, were also in the fray for the election to US Congress in 2020 but could not secure their wins. Here is a short introduction to the lawmakers in the US House of Representatives who currently constitute the ‘samosa caucus’.
Bera has been a member of the US House of Representatives since 2013, representing California’s 7th Congressional District. He is the longest-serving Indian American in the US Congress.
Bera was born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents from Gujarat. He studied to be a doctor and through his twenty-year-long medical career, he worked to improve the quality of affordable healthcare.
Currently, Bera is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as chairman of the subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation. He is also vice-chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Krishnamoorthi is often credited with coining the term “samosa caucus” for the informal sub-group of Indian Americans in the US Congress. He has been serving as the representative for Illinois’s 8th Congressional District in the US Lower House since 2017.
Born in New Delhi in 1973, Krishnamoorthi’s family moved to the US when he was three years old. He grew up in Buffalo, New York while his father attended graduate school there, and the family then moved to Peora, Illinois.
Krishnamoorthi has worked extensively with former US President Barack Obama in the past, assisting on his 2000 election campaign for the House of Representatives and 2004 campaign for the Senate. His keen areas of focus include “supporting small businesses, rebuilding infrastructure, and protecting social security and medicare”.
Jayapal was the first South Asian-American woman elected to the US House of Representatives. She defeated Jim McDermott, who had been holding on to Washington’s 7th Congressional District since 1988, to win her place in the US House of Representatives for the term beginning 2017. Previously, she was also a member of the Washington State Senate from 2015-16.
Born in Chennai, Jayapal spent her childhood in Indonesia and Singapore, and moved to the US to attend college at Georgetown University at the age of 16. She also earned an MBA degree from Northwestern University.
Jayapal’s work is concentrated across a number of fields, especially healthcare, and women’s, immigrant, civil, and human rights. In 2020, Congresswoman Jayapal sponsored the “South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2020” Bill that aims to raise awareness about an increased risk of heart diseases in persons of South Asian descent.
“As the first South Asian American woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, I am fully committed to not only raising awareness and educating the South Asian community about the risk factors for heart disease but also ensuring that those living with heart disease receive the care, treatment, resources and support they need. I am proud that this urgently necessary legislation passed committee and I won’t stop fighting until it becomes law,” the Congresswoman was quoted as saying after the Bill was passed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in September 2020.
Philadelphia-born Ro Khanna represents California’s 17th Congressional District. He was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 2017.
Khanna’s district is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, making job creation in the technology sector one of the focal points of his administration. He sits on the House Budget, Armed Services, and Oversight and Reform committees, and is the first vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He is also one of the six members of the Lower House who do not accept campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees.
In 2019, Khanna came under fire for joining the Congressional Caucus on Pakistan, The Economic Times had reported. The Hindu American Foundation urged the lawmaker to withdraw from the committee, to which Khanna responded in a tweet: “it is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians.”
In the past, Khanna has taught economics at Stanford University. He served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Commerce under former President Obama.