PoliticsWho is Beto O'Rourke, the latest 2020 contender?

14:06  14 march  2019
14:06  14 march  2019 Source:   cbsnews.com

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Who is Beto O'Rourke, the latest 2020 contender?

Slideshow by Tribune News Service

After months of speculation, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso launched a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, hoping to rekindle the liberal enthusiasm around his enthusiastic but ultimately failed Senate bid in deep-red Texas in 2018.

Along with mounting a formidable challenge to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year, O'Rourke represented a majority Latino border district in the House of Representatives for three terms, served as a city councilman in El Paso for six years and was part of several rock bands as a young adult.

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O'Rourke was born and raised in the Texas border city of El Paso. Although his legal first name is Robert, he has been known as Beto — the nickname Spanish-speaking communities give names that end in "berto," like Roberto and Alberto — since childhood. He was an avid musician as a teenager and was part of various rock bands, including the El Paso-based punk group Foss after graduating from Columbia University in New York in 1995.

O'Rourke's music career, however, was short-lived and he spent several years working in start-up companies and civic groups when he returned to El Paso from New York City. After working on several local political campaigns, O'Rourke ran for the El Paso City Council in 2005 and defeated a two-term incumbent. He served two terms in the council and spearheaded a controversial effort to revamp the city's downtown.

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In 2012, O'Rourke, who speaks fluent Spanish, announced his candidacy for the Democratic primary in the race to represent Texas' 16th Congressional District, a Latino-majority district encompassing El Paso and the surrounding communities. He managed to topple eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the primary and defeated his Republican challenger in a landslide general election victory.

While in Congress, the Texas Democrat compiled a moderate voting record during his three terms, where he served on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees. On immigration, O'Rourke has been a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform but has shifted to a more progressive stance on the issue recently. In 2014, he called President Obama's executive action creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation "noble" but "hard to stomach" because he believed it bypassed Congress. He also backed Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan's leadership challenge against then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2016.

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O'Rourke launched a long-shot, insurgent campaign to oust Cruz in 2018. His robust Senate bid in Texas — along with his Obama-esque oratory powers and social media dominance on the campaign trail — catapulted him to national fame. Although he failed to unseat Cruz, O'Rourke shattered fundraising records, galvanized a broad electoral coalition in Texas, including the state's large and growing Latino community, and lost by less than three percentage points. No Democrat had come that close to winning a Senate race in Texas since 1988.

Despite the loss, O'Rourke left many wondering if he would be running for president.  Although he told "60 Minutes" shortly before the election that he was "completely ruling out" running for president for 2020, O'Rourke admitted shortly after the election that he had become open to the idea.


In his six years in Congress, O'Rourke supported the legalization of marijuana, investing in clean energy like solar and wind to combat climate change, more expansive gun control legislation, LGBT rights and had a pro-choice stance on abortion rights. He often called for improvements to the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.

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During and after his Senate campaign, O'Rourke made immigration a central issue. He has routinely denounced the White House for its hardline immigration agenda, including the discontinued "zero tolerance" policy that led to the separation of thousands of migrant families near the U.S.-Mexico border. He also strongly supports legislation to put young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

During a fiery speech in El Paso last month where he drew sharp contrasts with President Trump's stringent policies and tough rhetoric on immigration, O'Rourke condemned Mr. Trump's long-promised wall along the southwestern border.

"We know that walls do not save lives. Walls end lives," he said in a border rally that competed with one of Mr. Trump's nearby rallies. "In the last 10 years, more than 4,000 children, women and men have died trying to come to this country to work jobs that no one will take, to be with a family member, to flee horrific violence, brutality and death."


In addition to the scrutiny O'Rourke will likely face for launching a presidential campaign a few months after losing a Senate race, the Texas Democrat can expect to be questioned by political rivals about his tenure in Congress and personal life.

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Although he had a generally liberal voting record in Congress, O'Rourke's progressive bona fides may come under scrutiny from the left. In the House, he was a member of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition and received donations from the oil industry, which will likely not bode well with progressives who are pressuring the Democratic Party to support more audacious efforts, like the "Green New Deal," to mitigate climate change. During his Senate campaign, O'Rourke refused to back "Medicare for all," a proposal many 2020 Democrats have vouched their support for.

Some candidness may also follow the lead of O'Rourke's previous political opponents and raise the issue of his arrest in the 1990s. In 1998, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated, but the charges were dismissed after he participated in a DWI program the following year. O'Rourke has apologized for the incident, but he was criticized last year for claiming he did not try to leave the scene after hitting a truck. The Houston Chronicle reported in August that witnesses told police he had attempted to leave the scene.

What Trump says

Trump has repeatedly mocked the speculation around an O'Rourke presidential campaign to challenge him in 2020, pointing to the Texas Democrat's unsuccessful Senate bid. "I thought you were supposed to win before you run for president," Mr. Trump told reporters in December.

When the two men held dueling rallies to tout completely different immigration agendas last month, the president bragged his event drew a larger crowd and ridiculed O'Rourke's "great defeat" in November.

"CBS This Morning" co-anchor Gayle King will speak with O'Rourke for his only national TV interview following his 2020 announcement on Friday on "CBS This Morning" with a preview airing on "CBS Evening News" Thursday night.

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