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CNN Live Event/Special
Town Hall Meeting with Beto O'Rourke. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired October 18, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN, MODERATOR: Good evening from McAllen, Texas. That's 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. And welcome to a CNN town hall with Beto O'Rourke. I'm Dana Bash.
We're here at the McAllen Performing Arts Center for one of the hottest Senate races in the country. Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke is challenging Republican Senator Ted Cruz. O'Rourke has captured the national spotlight with record-shattering fundraising and viral videos, and now he's trying to come from behind and turn Texas blue.
With just four days until early voting begins, we invited members of our audience from here in the Rio Grande Valley and all around Texas to ask questions. And we invited Senator Cruz to come here tonight and take questions from this audience, but he declined our invitation.
Now please welcome Congressman Beto O'Rourke.
REP. BETO O'ROURKE, (D-TX), CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: Hey. Hey, McAllen. Good to see you. Thanks for having me. Thank you.
All right. Thank you all. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you.
BASH: So, Congressman, let's get right to it. Texas voters say immigration is their number-one most important issue in this election here in Texas. It's especially personal, of course, here in McAllen, very close to the border.
The first question comes from Carlos Garcia. He's an immigration attorney working on family reunification. Carlos?
QUESTION: Congressman, this weekend, the president indicated that he's open to resurrecting his family separation policies. For the most part, the amazing people of south Texas, regardless of political or religious affiliation, stepped up to the plate to help those in need, because, well, that's what we do in south Texas. What is the most important piece of legislation that you plan to introduce to make sure that this doesn't happen again?
O'ROURKE: Carlos, thank you for your question. And, Dana, thank you for having me here today, CNN and the city of McAllen, very grateful to be with you. I was here in McAllen in the wake of the president's disastrous zero
tolerance policy, which meant that every family that attempted to come to the United States seeking asylum between our ports of entry was separated. In real terms, that means kids taken from their parents.
Went to the busiest Border Patrol station within the busiest Border Patrol sector here in McAllen, met moms who with their kids had just been apprehended, had just turned themselves in. As the Border Patrol agent in charge joked with me, she said, we're not arresting these asylum-seekers, they are arresting us.
Met a young woman, 27 years old, with her 7-year-old daughter. Within hours, they would be separated. But as I was talking to that mother from Honduras, and she told me how she'd been on the road for the last three weeks, how she was trying to bring her daughter to safety and salvation, unbeknownst to them, they would be separated within hours.
And that little girl, the entire time that I was talking to her mother, never once took her eyes off the most important person in her life, never let go of that hand to which I bet she had been holding every single day for the last three weeks for the last 2,000 miles.
Because of the people of this community, of McAllen and the people of the border and the people of Texas, we got this administration, at least temporarily, to desist in this policy of taking kids away from their parents. But we know full well that tonight there are hundreds of kids who have yet to be reunited with their parents, who don't know when or even if they're going to see them again.
You ask what we, the people of Texas, can do about this. First, we can ensure that never again is another child taken from another parent coming here to seek asylum.
Two, we can insist that immediately every single one of those kids is reunited with their families, that we follow our own asylum laws.
And then, going forward, Texas, the defining border state, immigrant story and experience, and it's a positive one, should lead the national conversation in rewriting our immigration laws in our own image, to reflect our values, our interests, our experiences, what we know to be true and to be good.
For example, freeing Dreamers, more than a million in this country, nearly 200,000 in Texas, from any fear of deportation by making them U.S. citizens here. They're already as American as anyone else in any way that's meaningful. Let's make sure that they're also citizens so that they can contribute to their full potential.
And then bring the people of this country, led by this state, Republicans and Democrats, independents alike, to the table and lead a way forward that is based not on fear or who we're scared of or who we will wall off, but our pride, our ambition, our aspirations, who we know ourselves to be, a country of asylum-seekers and refugees and immigrants.
Thank you, Carlos, for the question. Appreciate that. (APPLAUSE)
BASH: And our next question comes from Liza Vasquez Garza who is from here in McAllen. Lisa?
QUESTION: Good evening, Congressman. We have seen the various negative ads about how you "favor open borders." Can you please tell us what your position is on border security and what, if anything, is needed for border security? As part of your answer, can you explain, once and for all, to the great citizens of Texas whether or not you are in favor of open borders.
O'ROURKE: Thank you for your question, and thank you for being here. I'm not in favor of open borders.
Amy and I are raising three extraordinary kids in El Paso, one of the largest binational communities in the world, similar to McAllen and Reynoso, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez are an international community, three million people from two countries speaking two languages who come together joined, not separated, by the Rio Grande River, forming something far greater, more powerful than the sum of the parts or the people.
Not unrelated to that is the fact that El Paso, Texas, is one of, if not the safest cities in the United States of America. A quarter of those that I represent in Congress were born in another country, chose us, and I would argue by their very presence help us to be more successful, help us to be stronger, help us to be safer, help us to be more secure.
We do not need walls, 2,000 miles long, 30 feet high at a cost of $30 billion, walls that would be built not on the international boundary, which is the center line of the Rio Grande River channel, but would be built miles into the interior, on someone's ranch or farm or home or property. We'll have to use our power of eminent domain to take your property to build a wall that we don't need at a time of record security and safety on the border. The level of northbound apprehensions today is the lowest that it's been since 1971, the year before our birth.
That doesn't mean that we don't have serious challenges on our borders and threats against which we must remain vigilant. There are people who would smuggle other people into this country, others who would bring illegal drugs and try to traffic them into our communities. We must support the nearly 20,000 women and men of the Border Patrol and that important job that they do to keep our communities safe. We must support local law enforcement.
But we must also tell the story of our communities, communities like McAllen and Weslaco and San Benito and Brownsville, this powerful, proud story of how we are safe communities, very often safer than the average city in the interior of the United States. Let's tell the story of our communities, including from local law enforcement, who tell us that when everyone has a shared stake in the success of our community, then everyone feels comfortable reporting a crime, testifying in a trial, serving as a witness, contributing to our safety and our security.
Let's use our example, our life, our experiences to make sure that we take the lead in rewriting those laws in our own image. That will keep us more secure.
And the last point. Senator John Cornyn, the senior Republican senator from the state of Texas, and I wrote legislation that would make us even more secure by ensuring that we have the staffing at our ports of entry that inspects everyone and everything that comes into this country while facilitating legitimate trade and travel connected to millions of jobs in Texas and throughout the country.
Thank you for your question.
BASH: And, Congressman, as a follow-up, you are opposed to pretty much every major immigration policy proposal coming from the Trump White House. So what is your plan to deter immigrants from coming across the border illegally?
O'ROURKE: First, let's make sure that our laws reflect our values and that we follow the laws that we have on the books right now. I would argue that the Trump administration has broken this country's very own asylum laws.
People who are fleeing the deadliest countries on the planet today -- Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador -- who are doing what any human being, what Amy and I would do in the same situation if it were the only way to save Ulysses and Molly and Henry's life. We're punishing them, taking their kids from them, turning those parents over to the Department of Justice, prosecuting them like common criminals, and deporting them back to the very countries from which they fled.
So let's make sure that we follow our asylum laws. Let's not try to solve these problems of human misery at the border...
BASH: But that's about asylum. What about stopping illegal immigration, that has nothing to do with asylum, which is a real problem, you agree?
O'ROURKE: A couple of ideas here. One, let's make sure that we expand the capacity in our different visa categories. When we ask somebody to get to the back of the line right now, we may not realize that that line stretches 18, 20, 22 years. H-1B visas are 85,000 positions in a country of 320 million.
We're not able to fill all of those high-skill, high-wage jobs here in this country with people here. Sometimes we need to attract those from other countries to be able to do that work. In other cases, it is people who are trying to join their family lawfully waiting in that 20-year line. So, revising those visa categories, working with folks from both sides of the aisle to do that.
I mentioned freeing Dreamers from any fear of deportation by making them U.S. citizens here. And then I also mentioned the legislation that John Cornyn and I worked on to strengthen security at our ports of entry. That's where the vast majority of everyone and everything that comes into this country first crosses.
It has to be comprehensive. If we try to do this piecemeal, through fences and walls or this measure or that, I don't think we'll ever get there, and that will inherently involve compromise and finding some consensus. That's the way that I want to work, and I think that's the way that people in Texas of all walks of life, all backgrounds, and all party affiliations want to help lead the country on this conversation.
BASH: I want to ask you and our next audience member wants to ask you about your name.
BASH: You were born -- you go by Beto. You were born Robert Francis O'Rourke. And so what Khalid Aboujamous over here has to ask you about is that, and he is a student at the University of Texas here in the Rio Grande Valley.
QUESTION: Hi, Congressman. How are you, first of all?
O'ROURKE: I'm great. How are you doing?
QUESTION: I'm great. I'm fine. Congressman, throughout the campaign, you have been attacked for being what Don, Jr., has called an Irish guy pretending to be Hispanic. So what does the Hispanic community mean to you? And what relationships do you have with that community?
O'ROURKE: So to clarify the question about my name, I was born Robert Francis O'Rourke, son of Pat Francis O'Rourke, who was the son of John Francis O'Rourke, father to Ulysses Francis O'Rourke, who will go as UFO for much of his life.
And from day one, in El Paso -- and you know this in McAllen -- if you are born Robert or Albert or Gilbert or Humberto, your folks, your friends, your community calls you Beto. That's my nickname that I've gone by for my entire life.
Born and raised and fourth generation in El Paso in a community that is more than 80 percent Mexican-American, as I said earlier, conjoined with Ciudad Juarez, 3 million people forming one of the largest binational communities in the world. So this is part of who I am and where I'm from and the pride that I feel in representing that community in Congress and telling our story from the perspective of a community that was all too often forgotten. No one ever showed up and asked us about border security or immigration or the bilateral relationship with Mexico, though we are living it every single day as you are here in McAllen.
So it's very much a part of who I am. Ulysses and Molly and Henry go to Mesita Elementary, the same world-class public school in which I was educated, but the difference today is that when Amy helps them with their math homework tomorrow night, she may be helping them with their math homework in Spanish. The next day, she may be doing it in English.
We've made the most out of our natural advantage in the world, being this binational community. It's full dual-language immersion education, so not just speaking and reading, but writing and computing and breathing and living in both languages, making the most of who we are. I'm fiercely proud of that, and I want to share that story with the rest of the country.
Thanks for the question. Appreciate it.
BASH: Congressman, President Trump is coming here to Texas on Monday to campaign with and for your opponent, Senator Cruz. I want to bring in Juan Ramirez, who has a question about the president. He's a student at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.
QUESTION: Hello, Congressman.
O'ROURKE: Hey, Juan.
QUESTION: My question would be, what would you say to Republicans and independents who are watching tonight and are contemplating about voting for you, but are worried that, should you win, your main objective as senator would be to try and impeach President Trump?
O'ROURKE: I want to tell everyone in this state, regardless of your party affiliation or any other small difference that does not have to define us at this moment, that we can come together. I want to represent all of you.
It's why I'm here in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most reliably Democratic places in the state, if not the country. We could bank on your vote, take you for granted, but I keep coming back to communities like McAllen because I want to hear your story and I want to incorporate it into our campaign.
It's the same reason that I go to Abilene, Texas, one of the most reliably red parts of the country. People joke that as you're orbiting the earth, you can see it glowing red from outer space. First time we go, maybe 25 folks show up at that town hall meeting. The fourth time we go, we have to hold the town hall meeting in a space like this at the Paramount Theater in downtown Abilene because 800 people have shown up, Republicans, independents, Democrats alike, finding common cause in the big, ambitious goals that we have for this country, making sure that in a state where half the teachers work a second job just to make ends meet, that we have their backs, pay them a living wage, so they can just focus on one job, that we lead the conversation on immigration or that we go from being the least insured state in the United States of America whose number-one provider of mental health care services is the county jail, to being a state where we are there, by, and for one another, leading the way on universal, guaranteed high-quality health care. That is my focus, on the things that we can achieve. And I will work
with anyone, anytime, anywhere, including President Trump, whose administration I have worked with to pass legislation to make this country and my community better so that we can advance these goals that we all share regardless of our party affiliation.
Thank you for the question. Appreciate it.
BASH: Congressman, his question was about impeachment. And you said in July that you would, as a member of the House right now, vote to impeach. Have you changed your mind?
O'ROURKE: I haven't. Let me put it this way. There may be an open question as to whether the president, then the candidate, sought to collude with the Russian government in 2016, but to quote George Will, very conservative columnist, when we saw him on that stage in Helsinki defending Vladimir Putin, the head of the country that attacked our democracy in 2016, instead of this country and its citizens and this amazing democracy, that was collusion in action.
You may have wondered when he fired James Comey, the principal investigator into what happened in that election, whether that was an attempt to obstruct justice. But when, by broad daylight on Twitter, he asked his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to end the Russia investigation, I would say that's obstruction in action.
Ultimately, however, Dana, this is a political question. A Republican colleague of mine in the House will have to come before an audience like this and explain to her constituents or his constituents how they just voted to impeach the president of their own party, how they put their country ahead of their career or their next election or the politics of the moment.
The best course to get there so that every member has all the facts and that they are compelling enough to do the right thing is to allow the full independence and integrity of the Bob Mueller investigation.
BASH: But you've already said, even though that's not done, that you would vote to impeach, and so according to the Constitution, that means that the president has committed the crime of treason, bribery, or a high crime and misdemeanor. Which one of those do you think the president has committed?
O'ROURKE: I would liken impeachment to an indictment. There is enough there to proceed with the trial for a full vetting of the facts and to make the best informed decision in the interests of this country and our future.
As you know, under the Constitution, as a member of the Senate, it's a far different bar. That is a trial with my colleagues where we look at the facts. And I would not prejudge the outcome of that trial. All I am saying is that there is enough there. And I think I laid out the case in both the collusion with a foreign power and the effort to obstruct justice going forward.
I know that this is not politically easy or convenient to talk about, but 242 years into this experiment, which is the exception, not the rule in world history -- there's nothing that guarantees us a 243rd or a 244th. It's up to all of us to stand up for that democracy. The best way to do that is to express it on the 22nd of October, the first day of early voting, and then Election Day on the 6th of November.
But yes, to answer your question, I do think there's enough there for impeachment. And if asked, I would vote on it.
Now, I have not made this the mission of the campaign. I've never called for it at a rally, never sent a campaign e-mail out about this. I'm not on any articles of impeachment for all the reasons that I just gave you. I'm focused on the future. But, yes, I want to answer your question honestly, and I think there's enough there to make sure that we move forward.
BASH: Congressman, thank you so much.
O'ROURKE: Thank you very much.
BASH: A lot more to get to. Stay right there. We'll be back with more from CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke.
BASH: Welcome back to the McAllen Performing Arts Center and CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke. For our viewers just joining us, Senator Ted Cruz declined our town hall invitation.
And, Congressman, I want to ask about the tone in this race here in Texas. It changed this week. You've been saying that people are sick of the pettiness and the smallness in politics, yet during Tuesday's debate that you had with Senator Cruz, you took a page right out of President Trump's playbook and you called Senator Cruz "Lyin' Ted." Why did you do that?
O'ROURKE: Yeah. So there have been untold dollars spent on TV ads that are lies, that are dishonest, trying to scare you about me, trying to incite people based on fear. I went through a whole debate at SMU with Senator Cruz where he made up one story after another.
And so at the very outset, when he began with yet another lie, I decided that I could either spend the rest of the debate responding to every single dishonest thing that he said or I could make sure that everyone understood exactly what he's doing. I said, look, he's dishonest. It's one of the reasons that he got tagged with this nickname, and that nickname resonates because it's true.
But I got to tell you, it's not something that I feel totally comfortable with. And perhaps, in the heat of the moment, I took a step too far.
BASH: Do you regret it?
O'ROURKE: You know, that -- I don't -- I don't know that that's the way that I want to be talking in this campaign. But I also heard from so many people, including many here, that, you know, as we focus on the future and define ourselves by our ambitions, all those things that I talked about earlier that we should be able to achieve and to lead on, to not answer to these attacks when your opponent says you want to legalize heroin or that you want to take everyone's guns away or that you want to open the border, it can invite, you know, confusion or questions by people.
And so I want to make sure that people know that that's not true. That's dishonest. And then I also want to make sure that there's a contrast offered on everything that we want to do, from immigration to education to health care. The choice could not be any more clear.
BASH: We're going to get to an audience member in just one second. I just want to put a button on this, because it's interesting that that was the answer that you seemed to have -- you regret -- a little bit of regret for doing that. You weren't planning on doing it?
O'ROURKE: I was not.
BASH: Because Senator Cruz said to you, your pollsters clearly planned it.
O'ROURKE: That's another -- I don't have a pollster.
I don't need...
BASH: Or your campaign. It was not planned.
O'ROURKE: I don't poll.
BASH: It just came out. OK.
BASH: All right, let's get to the issues here. The next question comes from Angie Rogers, who lives in Richardson, Texas. In 2015, her 24-year-old son, Brandon, died of a heroin overdose. Angie?
QUESTION: Howdy. Congressman O'Rourke, the neuroscience shows that the human brain continues to develop into the mid-20s. Marijuana use in the developing brain has been associated with the development of mental health disorders such as addiction, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, among others. As a mama of a forever 24-year-old son, whose substance use began in his teens with alcohol and marijuana, and ended tragically with heroin, I have concerns about legalizing substances. How will legalization curb substance use in this emerging adult population?
O'ROURKE: Thank you for being here and for having the courage to share your story and your son's story. And I know I speak for everyone when we say that we are so sorry for your loss and so grateful that you are here. We lose 70,000 of our fellow Americans to drug overdose deaths. We
can continue to treat this as a criminal justice issue or we can show real caring and compassion and treat it as a public health issue, make sure that people who have addictions get the care and the help that they need. Here, in the least insured state in the country, we understand some of the consequences of not being there for one another. Maybe it's our chance to take the lead.
You asked specifically about marijuana, and I agree with the findings that you cited, as your brain is still forming. To use marijuana, in shorthand that I can understand, will diminish your chances in life. You won't reach the potential that you would have had you not used it.
It's why I want to make sure that we have smart drug control policy. This war on drugs that we've been waging for more than 50 years, 50 years later, more than $1 trillion spent, marijuana is if not just as more available than it was at the beginning. It's increasingly being sold in high schools, and as the father of a sixth-grader who just entered middle school, that's one of the fastest growing markets and those kids are absolutely defenseless.
I want to make sure that we do the right thing by keeping that drug, that substance, away from kids, away from the vulnerable, the proceeds away from the cartels and kingpins and criminals.
I also want to make sure that for those veterans who do not want to be prescribed an opioid for which they may become addicted, that doctor at the V.A. who would rather prescribe medicinal cannabis here in this state do not become outlaws for wanting to do so.
I want to acknowledge that we have the largest prison population per capita on the face of the planet here in the United States, many serving time for possession of a substance that is perfectly legal or decriminalized or medicinalized in more than half the states in the union.
I think we can do the right thing, politically, not easy, but we can have that conversation amongst each other and make sure that those who need it to be able to do better, whose doctors believe that that prescription will reduce their pain, ease their suffering, improve their outcomes, are allowed to do that, that we stop trying to incarcerate our way through that problem, and those who have serious addictions to opioids get the treatment and the care and the help that they need.
And lastly, those who foisted this epidemic of opioid addiction on this country, pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, which got off with a slap on the wrist, pay the full consequences, that there is justice and accountability served for those lives that have been lost in this country so far.
Until we have that, this problem will not end. And so I'm grateful, again, that you were here and that you brought this and raised this to everyone's attention today. Thank you. Appreciate it.
(APPLAUSE) BASH: Congressman, to follow up, it was a question about legalization of drugs. And I want to read what you said in 2009 at an El Paso City Council meeting. You brought up ending the prohibition on narcotics in the U.S., and you said, quote, "I think we need to have a serious discussion about doing that, and that may, in the end, be the right course of action." How do you explain to a mom like Angie why there should be a serious discussion about legalizing narcotics, which includes heroin?
O'ROURKE: Yeah. In 2009, when I was on the El Paso City Council, Ciudad Juarez, our sister city, was the deadliest place on the planet, bar none. Why? There was a drug war raging there in part to satisfy the appetite for illegal drugs in this country, in part due to our prohibitionary incarceration-first policy that had created such a premium on crossing those drugs that kids were literally willing to die or to kill one another for the privilege of crossing something here into the United States. I thought we owed ourselves, as a country, our sister city of Ciudad Juarez, a conversation on the best way forward.
Now, that resolution or that amendment that I offered -- the resolution was inartful at best. What I was trying to get to was marijuana, the cornerstone of the drug trade economy, and to clarify the position -- and anyone can look this up -- Susie Byrd, my colleague on the city council, and I wrote an entire book on the subject. And what we focus on is marijuana policy from the perspective of the front lines of the drug war and communities like this one and communities like El Paso, and talk about an approach that would reduce the problems that we have and improve the outcomes.
So, to be clear, I don't want to legalize narcotics. I do think we should end the prohibition on marijuana and effectively control and regulate its sale and make sure those who need it for medicinal purposes are able to obtain it through a prescription from their doctor.
BASH: Thank you. You talk about health care. You have made health care a core issue in your campaign. You say Texas should expand Obamacare. Of course, Senator Cruz, your opponent, wants to repeal it.
The next question comes from Michelle Nabours from Manchaca, Texas. She is the mother of 3-year-old Jack who was born with a heart defect.
O'ROURKE: Hey, Michelle.
QUESTION: Congressman, I believe that everyone should have access to quality health care, especially because my son was born with a severe heart condition in 2015. It seems like Medicare-for-all would be the best way to ensure that everybody has the care that they need, but like many families in 2018, political conversations surrounding the single-payer Medicare-for-all systems leads to divisive debates and untruths. Can you explain how Medicare-for-all will benefit Texans?
O'ROURKE: Yeah. Michelle, thank you for being here and sharing your story and that of your son.
QUESTION: Thank you.
O'ROURKE: Nearly half of Texans under the age of 65 have a pre- existing condition. I mentioned that we are the least insured state in the United States of America. Hard to believe that in the year 2018, in the wealthiest, the most powerful country on the planet, we have people crowd-funding insulin treatment for diabetes, schoolteachers succumbing to the flu because they don't have $119 co- pay for the flu medication that they need to keep them alive.
Parents like you living in anxiety, wondering whether those pre- existing conditions will continue to be protected, when you have a junior senator who has promised to repeal every single word of the Affordable Care Act, including those protections for pre-existing conditions.
Here are some steps we could take towards the ultimate goal that you described. One, we could expand Medicaid. This state left $100 billion on the table, starting at the moment when the federal government was going to spend 100 cents on the dollar to expand the program, ensuring that more families got more care.
We could introduce Medicare as an option on the exchanges. Concerned about rising premium costs? So am I. Let's control them with some downward pressure by introducing Medicare as an option, lower price, expand selection and choice, and ensures, again, that more people get more care.
Now, on this last part of it, it could be Medicare for all, it could be another universal guaranteed high-quality health care system, like employer-based insurance complemented by those who can purchase into Medicaid or Medicare. There are many roads that will get us there.
But if we define the goal by these values -- everyone is well enough to live to their full potential, everyone can see a doctor, afford their prescriptions, take their child to a therapist -- it's guaranteed, it's high-quality, and it's universal, I know that this state, which understands the consequences of failing to do that far better than any other, can lead the way.
And I'll work with any of my colleagues in the Senate, regardless of party. I'll work with this administration and White House to make sure that we get there. It may not happen all at once. It may take us some time. We can't allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, but if we keep our eyes on the prize, if we remember stories like yours and your son, Jack's, and others who need us to be there for them right now, keep the urgency of this moment when we get to the Senate, I'm confident that we can get there.
Thank you for the question and raising the story. Thank you.
(APPLAUSE) BASH: Congressman, let's turn to the "Me, Too" movement. The next question comes from Lorena Perez. She is a biology major at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
QUESTION: Good evening, Congressman. With the current culture in America, it's become way too easy to dismiss victims, but it's also become easy to blame and label men and women as rapists out of revenge. How do you plan on protecting men and women from false allegations while still giving victims the justice and serious consideration they deserve?
O'ROURKE: Lorena, thank you for being here and asking a really important question. The presumption of innocence is incredibly important; so is ensuring that we listen to survivors.
And I have been struck by the courage of these survivors coming forward from all walks of life, all areas of industry, including in government. The testimony of Dr. Ford, the incredible courage that she showed in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with nothing to gain and so much to lose from her privacy to having to leave her home to reliving one of the most traumatic experiences of her life in full view for the entire country to see and for every member of the Senate to take apart and dissect.
So I want to make sure that we honor the courage of those who have come forward and that we listen to their stories and we ensure that there are the necessary, thorough investigations that should follow serious allegations like those made by Dr. Ford.
I want to make sure, as Amy and I are trying to do, that we teach our kids how to ensure that they are respected themselves and show respect to others, treat everybody with the dignity that they are deserving as humans.
I've joined legislation authored by my colleague, Jackie Speier, to make sure that we hold members of Congress to this same high standard. I've gotten behind legislation, like the Violence Against Women's Act, or VAWA, to make sure that there are the resources necessary to protect women and others who are in abusive relationships that need our help.
So I think we can do all of this in this country, and I know that not because of those in positions of power or public trust already, but from those who are standing up and coming forward and sharing their stories. So thank you for asking this important question tonight. Appreciate it. Thank you.
BASH: Congressman, thank you. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more from CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke.
BASH: Welcome back to the McAllen Performing Arts Center and CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke. For our viewers just joining us, Senator Ted Cruz declined our town hall invitation. And, Congressman, I want to talk about the issue that is a big one in
Texas, and it really does divide you and Senator Cruz in a big way, and that's guns. Senator Cruz has an A-plus rating from the NRA. You carry your F rating from the NRA as a badge of honor.
I want to bring in Edna Cantu. She's a retired school registrar from Houston.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Congressman.
O'ROURKE: Hi there.
QUESTION: So I've heard people tell me and say that you want to take away their guns. And I know that in this country, I don't think you can go and take away their personal property. Can you clarify that? Because it's a little confusing. And what exactly are you proposing?
O'ROURKE: I strongly support the Second Amendment. I don't want to take yours or anyone else's guns. I want to make sure that we, the people of Texas, who have this extraordinary, proud, long tradition of responsible and safe gun ownership for hunting, for sport, for collection, for self-defense, that we use this pride of place and our knowledge and experience to lead the national conversation that this country has been waiting for.
We lose 30,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence. No developed country even comes close. So there's either something wrong with us, something bad, something evil about the United States of America, or there is a human solution to a human-caused problem. I think that's what we, the people of Texas, believe.
And we can start with areas where there is extraordinary common ground, amongst gun-owners and non-gun-owners alike, Republicans and Democrats, things like universal background checks. In those states that have adopted them, we've seen a near 50 percent reduction in serious gun crimes.
So fewer police officers and sheriff's deputies being shot by those they are sworn to serve and protect, fewer girlfriends and boyfriends being shot by an intimate partner. In fact, this is a position supported by the police chiefs here in the state of Texas.
Despite the fact that we are purported to be the world's greatest democracy, the Senate, the world's greatest deliberative body, there have been precisely zero debates and discussions about gun violence and gun safety in the last six years. We need someone who could not care less about what the NRA or the gun lobby or any other political action committee thinks.
We need somebody who will stand up for human beings, for people, for the people of Texas, and the people of Texas should be able to lead the way on this conversation. Thank you for asking. Really appreciate it.
BASH: Let's turn to the economy. And for that, I want to bring Irma Pena. She is a speech therapist who lives right here from McAllen.
QUESTION: Good evening, Congressman.
O'ROURKE: Hi, Irma.
QUESTION: My husband is 59 years old, and he's been in the oil field since the age of 17. However, he hasn't been able to find any work, and the only profession he has ever known and done -- and I must say it's pretty overwhelming having to carry my whole household when he can't even find a job at Home Depot or Lowe's or anywhere. So my question to you is, how is a man supposed to do anything in a time when no one will hire him?
O'ROURKE: Irma, thank you for being here and for asking this question, again, your courage in sharing yours and your husband and your family's story to help us understand how we can do a better job.
We've seen economic growth in this country, going back to 2009, through two successive administrations. We know that much of that growth is owing not to who's in the White House but to small-business owners, to those employees who provide the value for those small businesses, for our communities and for our economy.
But though the economy has been expanding, and we've seen unemployment decline, real wage growth, the kind of quality, high-skill, high-wage jobs that we're talking about here, where you can work just one job instead of two or three to make ends meet, not enough of our fellow Texans can find them, that work with purpose and function that allows you to live a life of dignity.
Now, that's the problem that we have right now in Texas, but I've also seen part of the solution. I remember meeting Mayor Shetter in Burleson, Texas. They have a program there called Burleson Works. They invest in men like your husband who may be out of work, perhaps their job was automated out of existence, perhaps it's a young father or mother returning to the workforce after raising their families. They invest in their training at a local community college or for the certification or the skills or the apprenticeship that will allow them to command that high-skill, high-wage, high-value job.
Does not come inexpensively. It involves an investment that we have to make, but that investment produces a return. When that person is able to work, they're able not only to take care of their families and themselves, but contribute back to the success of their community, of this state, and of this country.
That's why I want to make sure that we make investments in people, in communities, not corporations and special interests and political action committees. This $2 trillion tax cut that flowed to corporations who were already sitting on record piles of cash, to the very wealthiest in this country at a time of historic income inequality, at a moment that we have $21 trillion in debt is unconscionable.
But it doesn't have to be our destiny. With the right leadership in the United States Senate, we can turn that focus back to people, people like your husband, to families and to communities, and that's what I want to do for you and your husband in the Senate.
Thank you for asking. Appreciate it.
BASH: Congressman, I want to ask you a follow up about it, because -- you can sit if you'd like. The unemployment rate is at a 49-year low nationwide. Texas was number-one in job growth last year, and you mentioned wage growth, so far this year, number one in wage growth. So how do you explain the fact that the Republicans should be replaced? Why aren't the Donald Trump and Ted Cruz economic policies actually working, based on those numbers?
O'ROURKE: Because those benefits and that wealth is not flowing to those who create the value in the first place. When you have somebody working full-time and living below the poverty line, that's not just. When you have schoolteachers in this state, half of whom work in a second or third job just to make ends meet, given the fact that their primary job is perhaps the most important one in our community and for our country, that's not right.
When you have a junior senator who wants to turn our tax dollars into vouchers, take them out of those classrooms, away from those public schoolteachers at a time that we desperately need more, not less investment, that's not right.
So a higher minimum wage, so that you can work one job and focus on that and your family and investing in the next generation, and investment in education, starting public education not in kindergarten, but in pre-K. Now, that doesn't come cheap. It's not easy to do. But it's an investment that pays dividends.
If we put $76 billion up over the next 10 years, for every dollar we put in, we get $9 back. That's a $650 billion return on that $76 billion that we put in. That ensures that we have the educated workforce for the future.
Some kids on the first day of kindergarten start 12 months behind in reading comprehension, 10 months back in math. I'd rather follow the lead of communities like San Antonio and move that starting line back so that it's the same one for every single child. Over the long term, investing in teachers, in public education, in access to higher education and a higher minimum wage and health care so that you're well enough to go to that job, we're going to see returns over and beyond the initial cost and investment that we make.
BASH: And you mentioned education. And one of the things that's got a lot of the young people interested in your campaign is that you say you're in favor of two years of free state or community college, but you also admit that's not cheap. That's going to be expensive. So how are you going to pay for it? Will you raise taxes in order to pay for two years of free college?
O'ROURKE: The cost estimate on ensuring that every single one of us is able to at least complete two years of higher education, that could be your associate's degree or the first two years of your bachelor's without taking on debt, it's estimated to be about $60 billion over the next 10 years.
To put this in perspective, we just lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The estimate is if we took it back up not to where it was but to perhaps to 25 percent or 26 percent, we'd generate between $500 billion to $600 billion.
Now, I just mentioned those two investments in pre-K at $76 billion, in higher education at $60 billion. We could make that decision that we're going to invest in one another. We have the resources to do it.
So, yes, on the corporate tax rate, I'd move that corporate tax rate up higher, not to where it was, but high enough to generate the revenue, to make sure that everyone, especially those corporations which are doing just fine, in fact, better than ever, pay their fair share so that all of us can get ahead.
BASH: Congressman, in this campaign, you have raised more than $60 million in campaign contributions. That's more than double, just for perspective and context, what Senator Cruz has brought in. Baine Herrera is here with a question about that. He's a second-year medical student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
O'ROURKE: Hi there.
QUESTION: Congressman O'Rourke, I listened to you talk about bringing other people along, working together, investing in the success of others. I've seen a lot of publicity recently about the $63 million your campaign has raised. It's amazing. You've done it all without accepting a dime of PAC dollar. That's amazing.
My question is, what would you tell Texans who think you're being selfish with your political campaign money at the expense of the Democratic Party? And what will you be doing with the millions your campaign has raised to ensure a strong Democratic turnout in competitive races?
O'ROURKE: Thank you for being here. And thanks for asking the question.
To provide some context, it's been 30 years, since 1988, Lloyd Bentsen, since Texas elected a Democrat to the Senate. It has been precisely since forever that El Paso had a statewide elected office- holder. We really have our work cut out for us. We're the largest of the lower 48, 254 counties. I want to make sure
that we spare no expense, use every possible resource to make sure that we reach every single person. As I said earlier, we're writing no one off. You can't be too Republican for us to reach out to you and bring you into this campaign. You can't be too much of a Democrat for us to not want to hear your story, as well. That takes money. Those are resources that we need to use.
Last week, I was in McKinney, Texas, and I met a young woman, 25 years old, who was on her way to her shift at Whataburger. She gave me a $10 donation, and she said I'm giving this to you because I want you to win. I'm giving this to you because I had a significant medical condition from which I'm recovering. It's been very hard to get insurance, to afford to see that doctor. I'm going to work at Whataburger right now to put myself through school so that I can have a better job going forward.
I don't want to take her $10 and give it to another candidate in another state or another race here in Texas if she gave it to me to pursue the goals that we have in common. This is the election of our lifetimes. The future and the fortune and the fate not just of Texas, but I would argue this country hinges on our ability to be successful when we turn out to the polls on the 22nd of October, the first day of early voting, and November 6th, Election Day.
So I want to make sure that we not only run this in the right way, but that we win this in the right way. And I'm going to use every single dollar to make sure that we do. Thank you for the question.
BASH: Congressman, thank you. And we'll be right back with more of CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke.
BASH: Welcome back to CNN's town hall with Beto O'Rourke. To the viewers just joining us, Senator Ted Cruz declined our town hall invitation.
And, Congressman, your race has generated a little bit of enthusiasm from coast to coast.
I want to bring in Gia Castro (ph), who is a graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande. Gia (ph)?
QUESTION: Hi, Congressman.
QUESTION: Do you foresee yourself one day running for the president of the United States?
O'ROURKE: Thank you for being here. Thanks for the question. Dana, since this is the last segment, asked me to be brief, and so I will. The answer is no. But I appreciate it. My wife was the only one to clap during that.
Our children are 11, they're 10, and they're 7 years old. We've told them we're going to take these almost two years out of our life to run this race, and then we're devoted and committed to being a family again. So that's what we're focused on. But thank you for asking the question. It's super kind. Really appreciate it. Yeah, thank you.
BASH: Congressman, I asked you to be brief, but I don't have to be. Is that a definitive no?
O'ROURKE: It's a definitive no.
BASH: Like never?
O'ROURKE: I mean, I -- so let me put it this way. I promise to you, and most importantly to the people of Texas, that I'll serve every single day of a six-year term in the United States Senate and I won't leave this state to go run for president.
BASH: And if you don't win?
O'ROURKE: If I don't win, we're back in El Paso. Yeah.
BASH: OK. I want to bring in Shane McCarty, a developmental psychologist, who just recently moved to Texas. Shane?
QUESTION: Thank you so much for being here. I am one of the 400,000 individuals who moved to Texas this year for the first time. When I moved from Virginia to Texas, I didn't know what to expect, to be honest, especially being here in the Rio Grande Valley.
And I found the people to be amazing. Many people outside of Texas and out across the world don't know what it means to be a Texan. And so I ask you, as someone who was born and raised in El Paso, someone who's a public servant and a representative of the people of Texas, what does it mean to be a Texan today?
O'ROURKE: Well, first of all, welcome to Texas. We are glad you're here. You got here as soon as you could.
This is one of, if not the most diverse states in the United States of America. As Amy and I have found traveling to each one of the 254 counties of Texas, we have this incredibly beautiful, diverse story to tell about who we are and where we're from and what we contribute to the future of this country.
In these border communities, these binational cities, we can tell the positive story of immigration. In the Panhandle and in West Texas and in North Texas, we can talk about how we grow the fiber and food that clothes and feeds so much of the world. In Houston and Beaumont, we talk about being energy leaders and contributing to 10 percent of the Texas economy. Go into a place like Sweetwater or Roscoe, we talk about leading the renewable energy economy, being number one in the United States of America today in the generation of wind power.
We are a state that you may know for the discussion around SB-6, this idea that we try to scare parents about transgender kids coming into their child's bathroom, though we know that transgender children are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of those attacks. We know in this state you can be fired for being gay. You can be denied the ability to adopt a child because you come from a same-sex partner household.
What you may not know if you live outside of Texas is that this state is fully committed to the full civil rights of each and every single one of us, wants to stand up regardless of your sexual orientation, to make sure that you can do everything that you're intended to do in your life.
This is a state defined by its ambitions and its aspirations. Last in the country in health care and making sure you can see a doctor, we will lead the way in being first in universal, guaranteed, high- quality health care.
Those teachers who are working a second or a third job, forced to teach to a high-stakes, high-pressure standardized test, who by our state constitution cannot effectively organize or strike for better conditions or wages, we will organize for them and insist that they are paid a living wage, work only one job, the most important one, and teach directly to the child and not to the test.
This is a state that is going to powerfully, positively surprise the rest of the country with our leadership. So thank you for asking.
BASH: Congressman, thank you very much. We're out of time.
O'ROURKE: Thank you.
BASH: Thank you for coming tonight.
O'ROURKE: I really appreciate it. Thank you all.
BASH: Thank you all for watching. Thank you so much to our audience and, of course, the McAllen Performing Arts Center. "AC 360" starts right now.