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 health care 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.”
He has also unveiled a plan to improve care and services for America’s veterans through the implementation of what he calls a “war tax.” Essentially, non-military households will pay a a tax to help cover the health care of veterans of newly-authorized wars. “This new tax would serve as a reminder of the incredible sacrifice made by those who serve and their families,” O’Rourke’s plan said in a statement, according to CNN. “We must be willing to pay any price, and bear any burden, to provide the full care, support, and resources to every single veteran who served every single one of us. Eighteen years into the war in Afghanistan, and nearly three decades after our first engagement in Iraq, the best way to honor our veterans’ service is to cancel the blank check for endless war—and reinvest the savings to ensure every American can thrive upon their return home.”
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.
He recently tweeted about the issue: “Immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans. Immigrants make our communities safer. When you militarize and terrorize and raid our communities, you make us less safe. People are less likely to report a crime, serve as a witness, and testify in a trial.”
“Instead of making those in our communities afraid of going to work and school, continuing to contribute to our communities and to their full potential, we should not only reverse course on these raids but we should rewrite our immigration laws so they fully reflect our values.”
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.
He recently tweeted about the fact that abortion rights are under attack in this country. “We will protect Roe v. Wade,” he wrote, “and defend a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body.”
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 health care. According to Planned Parenthood, he said, “More than a quarter of our clinics have closed. We have a maternal mortality rate that is 3 times worse for black women. We need better health care, especially for women of color. It’s an issue of life and death.”
O’Rourke has said he will appoint judges who support abortion rights and he will repeal the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal Medicaid funding for abortion services. According to Planned Parenthood, “when insurance coverage provides for all pregnancy-related health care except abortion, it interferes with the private health decisions that are best left to a patient, their doctor, and their family. The Hyde Amendment is a dangerous and unfair policy that lets politicians interfere in people’s personal health care decisions.”
He has also opened up bout infant mortality in the country. “It’s still shocking, and bears repeating: The disparity in infant mortality today in America between white America and black America is greater today than it was in 1850, 15 years before the abolition of slavery,” he said.
In late October, O’Rourke announced his plan to end mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system, which included several points specific to the well-being of women. If he were to be president, O’Rourke says he will champion the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and work to end the country’s rape kit backlog.
He would also reinstate the Bureau of Prisons’ “Transgender Offender Manual,” which would ensure safe housing for transgender people in Bureau of Prisons custody in order to “address the violence directed at trans women of color.” O’Rourke also promises to implement the First Step Act, which prevents the use of restraints on pregnant women and would require the Bureau of Prisons to provide menstrual products to incarcerated women. He also supports the Menstrual Equity For All Act; the act requires states to provide free menstrual products to all incarcerated women.
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.
During a recent interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he said, “You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that’s good enough. As much as a horror show as Trump has been … we had real problems before Donald Trump became president.”
“We cannot return to the past,” he added, dismissing the Obama administration over its failure to get “meaningful” gun control laws passed. “We cannot simply be about defeating Donald Trump.”
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.