Breaking Down Beto O’Rourke
Where the Presidential Hopeful Stands on Key Issues
Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke bounded onto the National political scene in 2013 beating out an eight-term incumbent in the Texas Democratic primary, and going on to serve in the US House of Representatives from 2013–2019.
The 46-year-old El Paso native quickly became a household name in 2018 when he ran for Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. O’Rourke was defeated in the midterm elections but gained invaluable name recognition. The mainstream media dubbed him “America’s Sweetheart” and he’d suddenly become the brightest rising star within the Democratic party.
Beto’s journey to the upper echelon of US politics wasn’t a straight shot. He grew up in El Paso, Texas but attended high school in Virginia at the prestigious Woodberry Forest boarding school. O’Rourke graduated Columbia with an English Literature degree and held a slew of odd jobs. He’s been everything from a life in “manny” to a punk rock front-man. He tried his hand at fine art, technology, and had a successful go at publishing before settling on politics in 2005 when he was elected to the El Paso City Council.
Policies, proposals, and politics
The latest from Real Clear Politics has Beto polling between 2 and 5%, standing sixth behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. He meets the donor threshold too, so he’s guaranteed to be on the debate stage in the coming months.
How progressive is Beto O’Rourke’s presidential platform?
The former congressman’s run for the White House is all about immigration. He rolled out his immigration specifics last week at a roundtable in Dallas and it has quickly become the cornerstone of his fledgling campaign. O’Rourke isn’t a fan of President Trump’s new merit-based immigration plan, saying:
“These immigrants are not a threat to us. In fact on that, they are contributors, not just to our economy, but to our safety and our families in our communities. So in an O’Rourke administration, the only case for internal enforcement is in someone who poses a violent risk because they have committed acts of violence… Not profiled based on their religion, ethnicity, or country of origin.”
It’s clear Beto is betting hard on immigration being a hot button issue in 2020, just as it was in 2016.
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Specifically, his immigration proposal would abolish illegal immigration detention for anyone who has not been convicted of a violent crime and instead bolster courts and attorneys, so applicants are vetted and processed faster.
It’s estimated that somewhere between 30 and 50% of illegal immigrants that are released without detention do not show up for their court dates and are “lost” in the U.S.
O’Rourke argues that adding more judges and attorneys will speed asylum claims and migrant processing up to the point that absconding would essentially take care of itself.
The Democratic hopeful also wants to end metering, provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and halt deportation for their parents. The plan also calls for the elimination of government contracts with for-profit prisons for immigration detention and a beef up of staffing at ports of entry along the border.
Concerning the many migrants held up in Mexico currently, Beto doesn’t provide specifics but wants to address the root of the problem by investing more money into the economies of the countries in South America that are producing the large migrant caravans, like Venezuela.
When asked what he’d do as president specifically in Venezuela, the former congressman stayed in limbo, saying he’d support Juan Guaidó as the rightful Venezuelan president but wouldn’t put US troops on the ground. It’s unclear how he’d be able to do both, he hasn’t answered whether he’d impose more sanctions on the starving country.
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O’Rourke’s immigration plan ticks off many progressive boxes, but there’s one speed bump on the road. His proposal includes doing all the aforementioned by executive action, something those on the left have execrated President Trump for. (Conservatives had the same loathsome sentiments for President Obama’s use of executive action.)
How progressive is Beto O’Rourke on other issues?
His immigration proposal is Beto’s most specific policy outline to date, but he’s been espousing other progressive ideas too. Although the presidential hopeful hasn’t gone into specifics on all of his proposals, he has also supported a ban on “assault weapons,” removal of fencing and other physical barriers along the US/Mexico border, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, abolishing the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, increased spending on education (including universal pre-k), supported late-term abortion, and believes that we should be addressing climate change.
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The other big-ticket progressive issue he’s gotten a bit more detailed on is healthcare. O’Rourke doesn’t advocate for “Medicare for All” like most progressives, he instead favors a proposal called “Medicare for America,” a bill that would automatically enroll those without employer health benefits in a free government option. Some say the plan looks a lot like the Affordable Care Act, but with more benefits and a higher monetary threshold to qualify for free or reduced care and a charging cap for doctors and hospitals.
Is he progressive enough for the Democratic Party?
Despite a cacophony of progressive ideas, Beto O’Rourke is still closer to the centrist side of the Democratic party. He’s ideologically more in line with Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden than he is Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and a host of other party hopefuls.
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But with those more centrist candidates snatching up 70% of the Democrat primary support, they may be holding the keys to winning the nomination. (Although from there he’s still the underdog in a general election — Trump takes O’Rourke in early polling by more than 10 points.)
His critics say he doesn’t have enough experience in economics or foreign policy. With an argument straight from President Trump’s 2016 playbook — his supporters argue he’s smart and savvy enough to catch on and hire the right people to surround him once he’s in office.
What’s his voting record in Congress like?
Beto O’Rourke’s voting record in Congress lends to the idea that he could be a bipartisan President — something that makes him appealing to independents, but could turn off more progressive Democrats that support candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.
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As a congressman, he was a member of the New Democratic Coalition, a more centrist wing of the Democratic party that aligns more with Republicans on business issues.
Five Thirty-Eight calculated that since President Trump took office, O’Rourke has voted in line with Trump policies at least 30% of the time on issues such as consumer protections, lowering taxes on the middle class, immigration, and lifting the oil export ban.
It’s unclear if the momentum train has halted for Beto O’Rourke, or if he’s just stalled out. Of late, his campaign has taken a few hits at the in the polls, leaving some supporters wondering if time is running out for the Obama-esque candidate. But O’Rourke isn’t ready to throw in the towel, and in a field of 26 Democratic hopefuls, anything can happen. One big change he’s making is increasing access, a move that will set him apart from other candidates like Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker who haven’t done much campaigning since their announcement speeches.
He’s also rolling out policy specifics, another strategy that’s different from most of his presidential hopeful counterparts such as Kamala Harris, who doesn’t have any part of her platform listed on her website, months after throwing her hat in the ring.
Despite the uphill climb, O’Rourke has managed to cement his status as the new fresh face of the Democratic party. Whether or not he moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, there’s one thing we can be sure of — he’s not done yet.
Secret Coran-Stacy is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and a senior contributor to CitizenSource, writing with a focus on U.S. elections and politics, media criticism, and illegal immigration. She hails from Little Rock, Arkansas.
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