Beto O’Rourke’s run for the presidency had largely remained in the shadows of higher-polling candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
And then a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 more in El Paso.
When an El Paso reporter asked him if Trump could do anything to “make this any better,” O’Rourke lashed out with frustration and profanity. The clip went viral, and suddenly O’Rourke was back in the news.
He also changed his campaign to focus on attacking Trump and gun culture, and he doubled down on his proposal to require assault gun buybacks.
“We must have a mandatory buyback of AK-47s, AR-15s, weapons designed for war,” O'Rourke told KNPR's State of Nevada when he was in Las Vegas for the gun control forum in October.
“I hate that Las Vegas and El Paso now have this connection,” he said, “These two communities have a perspective that we are obligated, I think, to share with the rest of the country about the devastation and the consequences, not just of these acts of violence and terror but to the gun laws that make this possible.”
Besides a buyback program, O'Rourke supports universal background checks and red flag laws that allow people or law enforcement to request that a person's gun be taken away if they believe that person is a threat to themselves or someone else.
O'Rourke said the mother of the shooter in the El Paso massacre asked the police if they could take his gun away but they told her there was no legal way for them to do that.
“This guy armed with that AK-47 - but also fueled by hatred and racism and intolerance that has been brought into the open by this president, who has described immigrants as an invasion, infestation, as criminals, as killers, as predators, as animals - he drove that weapon 600 miles to El Paso, Texas and open fire on people who were completely defenseless,” O'Rourke said.
The candidate admitted it wouldn't be politically easy to institute his buyback program but he said the greater challenge, “is the fact that we have essentially told our kids that right now we prioritize guns and gun manufacturers, the gun lobby and the NRA over their lives.”
“The immigrants here in Las Vegas, in this country, who came here to do better for themselves and their families… but who also importantly came here to do better for all of us. They’re called to and inspired by America and their ability to contribute to our success.”
O'Rourke said if the millions of undocumented people in the country could be allowed to earn a way to citizenship and fully contribute it would help them and help the society in general.
He also supports legalizing the so-called Dreamers, who are people brought here when they were young by their parents. He also would like to improve the legal immigration system to make it quicker and easier to navigate.
“That allows us to live up to our traditions and our promise and it also allows us to gain the benefit of all those things that immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers want to bring to this country,” he said.
“I fully plan as president on bringing not just Democrats to the table but Republicans and independents and people who could care less about party politics in America, because it’s the only way that we’re going to make progress on these issues that have seen absolutely no progress for the last two or three decades.”
He said that nobody - no matter their political affiliation - supports the fact that thousands of people are killed by gun violence every year in America or that children were taken from their families at the border when seeking asylum.
He would like to move past party politics and bring people together to get work done.
"I think the president has extraordinary executive authority when it comes to vehicle emission standards to make sure that not only are we protecting the air that we breathe, and importantly, that our kids' breath but that we’re passing on a planet that is habitable to the next generation”
O'Rourke said that President Barack Obama took the lead on addressing climate change but President Trump has rolled back many of those measures.
If elected, he would return to many of Obama's policies but be even bolder in addressing the causes of climate change, including pushing to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050.
O'Rourke admits that the country has its work cut out for it but he still has faith in its ability to get it done.
“I’m convinced that the political will exists to do the right thing. It just needs to be reflected in the next president of the United States,” he said.
“When it comes to housing, we need to build millions of new housing units in this country. They have to be affordable and they have to be closer to where people work,” O'Rourke said.
But beyond just that, O'Rourke said intersecting issues of better wages, universal health care, mental health care, local zoning laws and mass transportation also need to be addressed to really get at the problem.
“My experience as a small business owner in El Paso, Texas or working on the city council at the point of government where the rubber meets the road… working in the United States Congress, every day of the six years that I served in the minority, and yet able to get things done for those who put me in that position in the first place… running that race in Texas last year with the help quite frankly of a lot of people here in Las Vegas, who supported us, and going to every one of the 254 counties and winning more votes then any Democrat had in the history of the state… I think it is that kind of experience and leadership that ability to build a coalition of people who are not defined by their differences it’s going to take that to defeat Donald Trump.”
O'Rourke believes he is qualified to bring a divided country together but admits that ultimately it is up to the voters to decide whether he's too young for the job.
Beto O’Rourke, former U.S. Representative-Texas, Democratic presidential candidate
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