Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke lost the Senate race to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz by 2.6 percent of the vote. More than 4 million Texans voted for him and that’s led to widespread speculation about his future.
O’Rourke said multiple times during his campaign he would not seek the presidency in 2020. Yet at his first town hall meeting since the midterm elections, he changed his answer and said he’s not ruling anything out.
“I’m really focused on my family right now, I’m focused on finishing out this job strong in the next four weeks that I have left on my term and then after that we’ll see what comes," O'Rourke said. "I don’t think we’re ruling anything out and we’re not really, we haven’t gotten past just focusing on our family and being together and enjoying that.”
More than 100 people filled the downtown El Paso Community Foundation room to hear O’Rourke speak about his goals before his term ends. He addressed immigration issues including the migrant caravan, children detained in Tornillo’s tent city and President Trump’s demands to Congress to fund a border wall.
In response to border patrol agents using tear gas to stop hundreds of migrants from rushing the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, O’Rourke said immigration officials need to increase their capacity at ports of entry to process asylum seekers.
“We need to increase our capacity at ports of entry to allow asylum seekers to lawfully petition for asylum which is all that they’re trying to do. When you’re only processing between 40 to 100 applications with more than 5,000 people waiting for over 10 days in squalid conditions, you’re going to produce the kind of desperation that we saw yesterday," O'Rourke said. "This country has the capacity to follow our international obligations and our own laws, which we are so far refusing to do.”
Additionally, O’Rourke said his priorities until his term ends in January include veteran’s issues and avoiding a federal government shutdown.
“Make sure that we focus on access to the VA, the ability to go to college on your post 9/11 GI bill benefit, addressing issues of veteran’s homelessness. It remains a top priority for me," O'Rourke said. "I want to make sure that we use our position as one of the largest binational communities in the world to lead on bilateral U.S.-Mexico issues, on immigration, on border security. I want to make sure that we have funding for the government and that we meet our responsibilities to deliver on our commitments to one another and that we don’t allow partisanship or anything else to get in the way of delivering for one another.”
During his grassroots campaign, O’Rourke visited all 254 Texas counties and raised more than $70 million, an all-time record. O’Rourke remains a crowd favorite among Democrats who want him to run for the White House.
Among them are author and former police officer Ron Stallworth, whose memoir “Black Klansman” was recently made into a movie by director Spike Lee. Wearing a “Beto for Senate” t-shirt, Stallworth attended the Q&A to ask O’Rourke about the economic impact of General Motors’ recent decision to lay off 14,000 workers and Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships.
Stallworth said he doesn’t expect much from O’Rourke during the remainder of his lame duck term and is ready to support him in a bid for president.
“I will do everything I possibly can to get him elected and I’m hoping he runs for President and if not, I hope somebody puts him on as their vice-presidential candidate. We need people like Beto O’Rourke in this country. He’s refreshing, he’s the real deal, he’s not a phony and he is truly concerned about the needs of the people of his constituency unlike what we have in the White House today. We need somebody like him and he will have all the support that I can possibly give him when that time comes," Stallworth said.
Representative-elect Veronica Escobar, a former El Paso county commissioner and judge will take over O’Rourke’s 16th Congressional district seat. Escobar said while she’s very excited and grateful to represent El Paso, O’Rourke’s departure is bittersweet for her.
“He was a fantastic member of Congress. I had hoped he would be our Senator, and so I’m still heartbroken about the loss and heartbroken that he will not be our U.S. Senator but I have faith that there’s something bigger and better on the horizon for him. He’s just too good of a public servant, too devoted and genuine and honest and hardworking, we can’t lose him as a public servant for this country and I have faith that something good will come up," Escobar said.
If the continued encouragement of crowds like this is any indication, Escobar’s prediction might be a good bet.
If and when O’Rourke announces another campaign bid, he said he will continue being accountable to his El Paso constituents. O’Rourke said he will hold two more town halls to be announced in December, totaling 104 such events during his three terms in Congress.