Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso who famously challenged—and lost to—Ted Cruz for an open Texas senate seat in 2018, has officially joined the 2020 presidential race after months of speculation. O’Rourke gained a national platform during his senatorial run, securing celebrity supporters like Beyonce and Travis Scott. He’s been interviewed by Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres, received personal advice from President Barack Obama, and raised an impressive $80 million for his senate campaign. (Almost half of that came from donations of $200 or less, according to FiveThirtyEight.)
While the 46-year-old ex-punk rocker has been touted as a progressive candidate, when compared to some of the other frontrunners in the Democratic primary pool, he leans closer to a moderate. FiveThirtyEight reports that while he was in the House of Representatives, O’Rourke voted alongside Trump 30 percent of the time, and he’s been criticized for being in the New Democrats coalition, a group of moderates in the House, and for previously taking campaign money from oil executives. (Dive deep into his mixed voting record, here.)
So what else? He’s a husband, a father of three, and yes, Beto is his nickname. (His full name is Robert Francis O’Rourke.) Here, ELLE.com breaks down where O’Rourke stands on the nine issues voters cared about most going into the midterm elections.
In a Vanity Fair profile published shortly before he announced his 2020 campaign, O’Rourke said that he wanted to “shore up” the Affordable Care Act, as well as include Medicare in the healthcare marketplace, though he’s also interested in eventually having “health care for all.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, O’Rourke has said he wants universal health coverage, “whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise.”
The former congressman is also a proponent of legalizing marijuana on the federal level and believes we should “expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it.” According to the Dallas News, he said, “We need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people.”
In July 2018, O’Rourke tweeted, “At a time when unions are under attack, let’s not forget that they are the backbone of our workforce. Critical to bringing more Texans into better, higher paying jobs. Essential to making our communities, businesses, and economy stronger.”
While O’Rourke is as a progressive seen by some, he has also been known to vote alongside Republicans during his time in Congress. The Guardian reports that in 2015, O’Rourke voted for a GOP bill that Democrats said would “weaken lending disclosure protections for home mortgage borrowers.”
As the former congressman of a border district, immigration has been one of the cornerstones of O’Rourke’s platform. Vanity Fair reports that O’Rourke wants to find a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as well as work with the Mexican government to track who comes into the country.
He told the magazine, “In my opinion, that includes citizenship for Dreamers, a legal path to citizenship for their parents, and the ability to get right with the law, and work legally, and pay taxes, and pursue a path to citizenship for millions of others who’ve been working the toughest jobs here.”
He’s spoken out against the zero tolerance policy that separated families at the border and against Trump’s proposed border wall. Back in February, he was part of a counter protest in El Paso, which was meant to oppose Trump’s own rally about the border wall.
How Women Are Treated in the U.S.
O’Rourke supports abortion rights and has fought for women in Texas to be able to access health clinics and abortion services. According to the El Paso Times, he voted against a bill that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks.
During his senate campaign, he was also recorded talking about how the maternal mortality crisis is affecting black women and spoke about the importance of keeping clinic opens so women can receive essential healthcare.
After the mass shooting in Orlando in 2016, O’Rourke joined Democrats in holding a 24-hour protest on the House floor in an effort to encourage Republicans to vote on expanding background checks and stopping suspected terrorists from purchasing guns.
He also supports universal background checks, banning bump stocks, and restricting AR-15 sales, though he says he supports his state’s “proud and honorable tradition of responsible gun ownership for hunting, sport, self-defense, and collecting,” according to Dallas News.
The El Paso Times also reported that O’Rourke voted against allowing states’ concealed carry licenses to be recognized anywhere.
O’Rourke recently told Vanity Fair that he believes in a higher top marginal tax rate, telling the magazine, “This level of gross income inequality cannot persist, and if there’s a better way to get there, I’m open to it. But it’s definitely going to involve higher marginal rates on the very wealthiest in this country.”
He also voted against the 2017 tax overhaul and wrote on his Medium page that he believed the change would “hurt the very people we so desperately need to be helping.”
In the video where he announced his 2020 run, O’Rourke spoke about wanting to “end these decades-long wars” and support military veterans. According to Fox Business, he has also criticized President Trump for “leading the U.S. toward a trade war without any allies.” O’Rourke has openly advocated for free trade and has come out against Trump’s tariffs, with Dallas News reporting that O’Rourke said, “I represent a trading community that understands that our future is connected to the rest of the world.” He continued, saying there’s a need for “more markets that our manufacturers, exporters, farmers, ranchers and producers can sell into.”
Income and Wealth Distribution
During a Twitter Q&A in January 2018, O’Rourke responded “yes” when someone asked if he would fight for a $15 minimum wage, though it was not clear whether he meant federally or just in Texas.
He’s also tweeted about the need for equal pay, and he co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help makes wages more transparent in the workplace.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation
While O’Rourke was not a part of the Senate during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and therefore was not able to cast a vote, he was recorded saying he was grateful for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courage. He also said he was grateful for the FBI investigation into Ford’s claims, though he thought it seemed more limited than it otherwise should have been.
O’Rourke also wrote a Medium post about the confirmation, saying, “If I were in the Senate, I would have voted no.” He continued, “I am disappointed that he was confirmed. I know that today’s news and the headlines we’ve seen over the last few weeks have been extremely difficult for many Texans and especially painful for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment — so many of whom bravely spoke out, shared their stories, and continue to lead the way. The news has also been hard on those who might feel let down after making their voices heard by calling their senators, organizing with one another, uniting for what we believe in.”
And one more thing…
O’Rourke has had a few controversial moments—outside his voting record—that opponents can point to, one being his 1998 arrest for driving while intoxicated. Back when he was a city councilman, O’Rourke also supported plans to replace a barrio in downtown El Paso with either a Walmart or a Target. (The plan would also have benefitted his father-in-law, Bill Sanders.) A historian told the New York Times in 2018, “Mr. O’Rourke was basically the pretty face of this very ugly plan against our most vulnerable neighborhoods.”
Sanders popped up again during O’Rourke’s first congressional run. Vanity Fair reports that while O’Rourke did not want to use attack ads in the campaign, an outside super PAC underwritten by Sanders funded TV ads attacking O’Rourke’s opponent, incumbent Silvestre Reyes.