The 2020 Democrats: Beto O’Rourke

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Posted: Mar 14, 2019 10:15 AM
The 2020 Democrats: Beto O’Rourke

Source: AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez

*See our full list of 2020 Democrats here*

Quick Facts

Who: Beto O’Rourke

State: Texas

Current position: Former U.S. House Representative of Texas

Campaign Website: https://betoorourke.com

Background: O’Rourke earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University in New York. While studying, he worked as an intern on Capitol Hill for the office of former Rep. Ron Coleman (D-TX). After working a few jobs, as an internet service provider and at a publishing company, he returned to El Paso where he was born. There he sat on the city council from 2005 to 2011. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. O’Rourke ran an unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2018, despite running the most expensive Senate campaign in U.S. history.

2020 Campaign & Endorsements

  • Date Announced: March 14, 2019

  • Fundraising: $9.4 million in first quarter

  • Campaign Leadership: Jen O’Malley Dillon

  • Key Endorsements:

Political Positions

  • Healthcare: O’Rourke is proposing a plan introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called, "Medicare for America." The healthcare plan would enroll newborn children, elders and uninsured people into an expanded Medicare system. It would also prevent insurance companies from providing, "policies to individuals that duplicated the government’s coverage," but wouldn't bar private insurance as a whole. O’Rourke considers healthcare, “a basic human right, not a privilege,” and opposed the idea of repealing Obamacare.
  • Immigration: "Absolutely, I'd take the wall down," O’Rourke told MSNBC's Chris Hayes in February. The former representative supported the DREAM Act and “modernizing” the visa system to allow U.S. businesses to seek employees for jobs, “that American workers can’t fill.”
  • Environment: O’Rourke said in 2012 that he would work with members of the House to come up with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that can be absorbed by the ecosystem. “I believe that in tackling climate change and the greatest environmental threat we have ever faced,” he said. “We need to take unprecedented action in building a foundation for a clean energy economy. Harmful emissions that contribute to climate change also pollute our air and water. Climate change threatens our food supply, our security and the complex ecosystem that sustains humanity.” O’Rourke is also a supporter of the Green New Deal, calling it the best proposal he's seen to combat climate change.
  • Economy: O’Rourke supported federal stimulus spending. He co-sponsored the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which requires a $10.10 per hour federal minimum wage by 2016. The former congressman said he wanted, “policies that encourage companies to focus on returning investments back to their consumer, their employees, and to the community.”
  • Criminal Justice: On Monday, O’Rourke told supporters that he will push for completely legalized marijuana across the nation and call for expunging records of people imprisoned for possession. “Giving low-level offenders a second chance no matter the color of their skin or the economic status they hold can create opportunity for all of us,” he wrote in an email to supporters. O’Rourke also called for non-violent offenders to receive alternative sentences to prison and to get access to rehabilitation programs.
  • Gun Control: O’Rourke advocated for universal background checks to regulate online and gun-show sales. He also wants to ban the sale of, “weapons of war and high-capacity magazines.”
  • Abortion: O’Rourke is pro-abortion. He co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act in 2013 as well as bills S.217 and H.R.448 in 2015, which prohibit the passage of certain abortion restrictions. He said that he want to ensure, “that a woman’s right to choose is not compromised by limited access to safe and legal abortion services or family planning help.”

Criticisms/Controversies: 

  • Restructuring El Paso: O’Rourke supported a plan in 2006 to redevelop downtown El Paso by taking down tenements and gentrifying the area. His father-in-law, billionaire William Sanders, was involved in the project. The plan angered barrio residents and small business owners, who feared they would lose their homes through the eminent domain process.
  • Denies Fleeing the Scene: In his 2018 debate with Sen.Cruz, Beto claimed that he didn't attempt to flee the scene of a crime back in August 1998. Beto was arrested on DWI charges east of the New Mexico border. The Anthony Police Department confirmed the authenticity of a 12-page police report attached to a Houston Chronicle article, which states that an, "unidentified motorist ‘then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and to try to get the defendant (O’Rourke) to stop.'"
  • Only Passed One Bill in Congress: During his time as a House representative, O’Rourke helped pass only one bill. In 2016, H.R.5873 went into law, which designated, "the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 511 East San Antonio Avenue in El Paso, Texas, as the 'R.E. Thomason Federal Building and United States Courthouse.'"
  • Flip/Flop on Cop Support: Civil rights groups were angered by O’Rourke’s vote for the Thin Blue Line Act in 2017, which, “calls for death penalty to anyone who kills or attempts killing ‘a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other first responder.’” O’Rourke also called modern law enforcement, "The new Jim Crow," and last year expressed his admiration for the NFL players who took a knee in retaliation to acts of police brutality against black people.
  • Demeaning Comments About Women: O’Rourke wrote a review of the Broadway musical "The Will Rogers Follies" while studying at Columbia University. In it, he criticized the, "perma-smile actresses whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks." O’Rourke apologized for his article, saying that he had, “no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this piece read that O’Rourke's father is William Sanders. It was updated to say that Sanders is his father-in-law.

This piece is part of our Election 2020 series. See below for more information on the most talked about Democrats challenging President Trump. 

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Who Is Bernie Sanders?

Who Is Elizabeth Warren?

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Who Is Cory Booker?

Who Is Eric Swalwell?

Who Is Amy Klobuchar?

Who Is Kirsten Gillibrand?