Beto O’Rourke policies: Empty vessel or policy hound? Where Texas Democrat stands on the big issues

Chris Riotta
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Beto O’Rourke policies: Empty vessel or policy hound? Where Texas Democrat stands on the big issues

He's running — but who is he?

Beto O'Rourke captured the attention of the Democratic Party nationwide during his long shot senatorial campaign in Texas against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, breaking fundraising records and establishing himself as a uniquely progressive lawmaker in the deeply red Lone Star state.

However, the growing liberal faction of his party may be surprised to know Mr O’Rourke’s voting record is far more conservative than many of his fellow Democrats who have already thrown their hats into the ring, from Kamala Harris to Bernie Sanders.

The former El Paso congressman espouses a set of liberal ideals on issues ranging from gun control to immigration, while his centrist take on some other issues could set him apart from opponents vying for a shot at taking on Donald Trump in the next general election.

Here’s where Mr O'Rourke stands on several of the major issues heading into 2020.


Mr O’Rourke’s record on border walls is complicated. Last March, he supported a spending package that other leading Democratic contenders opposed that included billions of dollars for border wall construction in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere. Buried in that was hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs of existing fencing elsewhere — including El Paso.

He later explained the vote as a compromise to win approval of another proposal he backed, expanding access to mental health care for military veterans who had received other-than-honourable discharges. But his action attracted criticism from people who know the border best.

His nuanced position on border barriers, sometimes willing to use them as a bargaining chip, could be politically awkward in a national campaign but it’s mostly supported in El Paso. Meanwhile, Mr O’Rourke has made immigration reform a hallmark of his campaign, calling for “humane” laws surrounding immigration and the border.

Mr O’Rourke now opposes pumping any money into new walls. Instead, he’d like to see a coalition of border Democrats and Republicans in Congress hammer out a broader immigration overhaul.


During his 2018 senate campaign, Mr O’Rourke previously suggested that he’d support impeaching the president over alleged collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice.

But he went further while appearing at a CNN town hall from the US-Mexico border town of McAllen, Texas, saying that even as members of Congress wait for more evidence to emerge during federal investigations, “I do think there’s enough there for impeachment.”

Even Mr O’Rourke conceded to moderator Dana Bash, “I know that this not politically easy or convenient to talk about.”

Gun Control

The Democrat has described himself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and Texas gun culture but added, “We lose 30,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence.”

“Either there’s something wrong with us, something bad, something evil about the United States of America, or there’s a human solution to a human-caused problem,” he said to sustained applause at an event last year. “The people of Texas should be able to lead the way on this conversation.”

Marijuana and drug reform

Mr O’Rourke noted that the language of a later-vetoed 2009 resolution he helped author while an El Paso City Council member was “inartful at best” for endorsing legalising narcotics as a way to curb the drug violence across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

He still supports decriminalising marijuana but said he was never in favour of expanding that to heroin, as his former opponent Mr Cruz had suggested in attack ads.

Green New Deal

His record in Congress has drawn criticism from some for being too moderate, but Mr O’Rourke also spoke at length on Thursday about combating climate change and supporting the Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental plan backed by liberal Democrats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report