Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke

Former representative, Texas

Beto O’Rourke has withdrawn his candidacy.

Beto O’Rourke served three terms, from 2012 to 2018, as a Democratic member of Congress from Texas. Representing a border district, he has been an outspoken supporter of legal status for undocumented immigrants and an opponent of President Donald J. Trump’s proposed border wall expansions. He lost a close race for a U.S. Senate seat in 2018, in the process raising his national profile in the Democratic party. 

O’Rourke was born in El Paso, Texas, and from 2005 to 2011 served on the El Paso city council.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in New York in 1995.

China

O’Rourke has described the U.S. relationship with China as an adversarial one, especially on trade, but says Washington must also work with Beijing to solve global issues such as climate change. 

  • He has branded China as a currency manipulator and says that it is guilty of unfair trading practices such as dumping subsidized goods on the U.S. market and abusing intellectual property. He says Trump’s complaints about China are “legitimate.” 
  • However, he favors ending the trade war, saying tariffs on Chinese goods have amounted to “one of the biggest middle-class tax hikes in history.” He argues that China’s retaliation is primarily hurting American farmers.
  • He says Trump has alienated allies the United States needs to successfully confront China, including Canada and the European Union.
  • He calls China “a real threat” that undermines the United States and its allies with efforts to control the South China Sea.
  • He told CFR that China’s oppression of its Muslim Uighur minority is a “human rights disaster,” calling on the United States to “lead an international effort to pressure China to relent.”
  • He also says Washington should make it clear that it supports Hong Kong’s democracy “against increasing efforts by the Chinese government to undermine it.”

Climate and Energy

O’Rourke has made combating climate change the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, calling it the “greatest threat we face.” But he has also backed increased drilling for oil and gas, industries he has praised for creating jobs in oil-rich Texas. 

  • He has proposed a sweeping plan to fight climate change. It would devote $5 trillion, including direct spending, tax incentives, and loans, to new investments in infrastructure and new energy technologies. 
  • His plan commits to dropping U.S. carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a target set by the Green New Deal proposal.
  • The plan promises immediate executive actions, including new restrictions on methane emissions, stricter fuel-efficiency standards, and federal procurements that favor clean energy.
  • He would also rejoin and strengthen the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, from which Trump withdrew.
  • He told CFR that he would offer developing countries technical and financial assistance to transition away from fossil fuels, including through more funding for the UN Green Climate Fund.
  • He has at times backed fossil fuel energy. He is in favor of fracking, albeit with tighter regulation, and has said that increased drilling for oil and gas would promote U.S. energy independence and national security. As a congressman, he voted to lift a forty-year ban on U.S. oil exports.

Counterterrorism

O’Rourke ties the ability to fight terrorism to the strength of U.S. alliances, and argues that Trump’s abandonment of allies has made the country less safe. In Congress, he sought to reform the way intelligence agencies collect data on U.S. citizens. 

  • He says he would fight terrorism by strengthening intelligence sharing with allies, securing nuclear stockpiles, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan “in a responsible way.”
  • In Congress, O’Rourke repeatedly voted for legislation that would have limited warrantless surveillance of Americans. In 2018, he introduced legislation that would have made it necessary for intelligence agencies to get warrants to search U.S. citizens’ communications.
  • He backed the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which renewed the Patriot Act with some new restrictions on surveillance, though several of his proposals to limit collection of citizens’ data were not included.
  • He voted to condemn Barack Obama’s administration for transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without notifying Congress.
  • He says that immigration policy has become “conflated” with counterterrorism, and says that fear of terrorism is being falsely stoked to demonize immigrants.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

O’Rourke has made protecting U.S. election security from foreign interference a major plank of his campaign and argues that big tech firms should be better regulated. 

  • O’Rourke condemns Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and says Trump has “offered [Putin] another invitation to do the same.” 
  • He proposes new legislation to protect the U.S. electoral system from foreign meddling, including federal investments in states’ cybersecurity, nationwide risk audits, and requirements for online platforms to increase transparency in political ad buying. 
  • He has backed measures to protect privacy, including drafting a failed 2015 amendment to the USA Freedom Act to prevent the government from creating backdoors in communications technology for surveillance purposes.
  • He says he is for greater regulation of Silicon Valley tech companies, but is skeptical of proposals to break up tech giants such as Facebook.

Defense

O’Rourke says he will end the “blank check for endless war,” promising to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also focused on improving treatment of veterans and promised to restore congressional oversight of war. 

  • O’Rourke emphasizes the cost of the United States’ decades-long military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pledges to bring U.S. troops home immediately. He says this would save hundreds of billions of dollars, half of which he would put into veterans’ programs. 
  • He told CFR that he would pursue a peace process in Afghanistan that “brings all parties to the table,” prioritizes the participation of women, and reintegrates Taliban fighters into society. 
  • His veterans’ plan stresses the need to invest in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including in mental health treatment. He says he would restore military service as a path to U.S. citizenship and overturn the ban on transgender personnel.
  • He says he would pay for increased VA spending partly by imposing a separate war tax that would go to a trust fund to pay for veterans’ benefits.
  • He says Congress has “completely forgotten its constitutional responsibility” to declare war, arguing that if Congress is unwilling to vote on a war, “we have no business being there.”
  • While in Congress, O’Rourke repeatedly voted for defense authorization legislation that increased defense spending, though he has also blamed war spending for helping create the United States’ $22 trillion national debt.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

O’Rourke speaks regularly in favor of prioritizing diplomacy and economic development aid over military force. He accuses Trump of “cozying up to dictators” and promises to instead restore relationships with U.S. allies.

  • O’Rourke told CFR that the “pinnacle of American leadership” was shaping the global world order in the wake of World War II, including establishing institutions such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • He wants the United States to return to a leadership role in the world, saying it is the “indispensable nation” on issues ranging from climate change to nuclear nonproliferation. 
  • He argues that the military is bearing too much of the burden of U.S. foreign policy, and that the State Department and its diplomatic corps must be better funded.
  • He has spoken extensively about aid to Latin America, saying that strengthening democracy and economic conditions in the region is central to dealing with immigration issues. He proposes $5 billion in investment to the region, the formation of a new regional alliance, and programs to address corruption and unemployment in the hemisphere.

Economic Policy

O’Rourke has focused his message on increasing opportunities for small and medium-size businesses, creating a more inclusive economy, and reducing concentrations of wealth, power, and privilege. 

  • O’Rourke wants to roll back most of the 2017 tax reform, saying he would return the top individual income tax rate to 39 percent and partially reverse the corporate tax cut by raising the corporate rate from 21 to 28 percent. 
  • He also supports increasing the capital gains tax and taxes on share dividends, and he backs a war tax to pay for military actions.
  • He criticizes the outsize role of Wall Street in the economy and wants a 0.1 percent financial transactions tax to help fund social programs and reduce speculation. He also wants to strengthen regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • His economic plan promises to invest in infrastructure; create jobs in the clean energy sector; increase lending to women, minority, and other underserved small-business owners; and appoint Federal Reserve members who prioritize full employment.
  • He also offers a detailed labor plan, which would make it easier to form unions, raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, expand worker protections, and increase worker training programs. 
  • He proposes free community college, increased student aid, targeted student loan forgiveness, and increased apprenticeship and technical training programs.

Immigration

Immigration is a top priority for O’Rourke, who has promised to roll back Trump’s “cruel and cynical” immigration policies that he says have caused “chaos and confusion” at the border. He has laid out a plan for comprehensive reform and emphasizes the need for development aid for Central America.

  • O’Rourke promises on day one to use executive action to reverse many of Trump’s immigration policies, including family separation, “immoral” conditions for detained asylum seekers, and the “inhumane” policy that seeks to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their requests are processed. 
  • His executive actions would also include reforming the asylum system, increasing refugee admissions, undoing Trump’s travel bans for residents of certain countries, protecting Dreamers—undocumented residents brought to the country as children—and immediately halting work on the border wall.
  • He wants to send two thousand immigration lawyers to the border and increase the number of judges to speed up asylum proceedings. He also says asylum seekers should be allowed to apply for entry to the United States in their home countries.
  • Separately, O’Rourke promises immigration reform legislation in his first hundred days. His vision of comprehensive reform includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented residents of the United States, increased immigrant work visas, increased border security, and more oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • He also proposes investments totaling $5 billion in Latin America, especially the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, to address the sources of migration. The funding would promote economic development, fight corruption, and seek to prevent violence.

Middle East

O’Rourke has been a strident critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East in recent decades, charging that it has relied too much on military force and has misunderstood the region.

  • O’Rourke calls the United States’ alliance with Israel one of the country’s “most important relationships” and supports a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 
  • However, he calls current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “racist” and says that Israeli annexation of West Bank territory “will make peace in the long term impossible.” He told CFR that he would hold both sides of the conflict accountable for “unjustified acts of violence.”
  • He was against Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, calling it “unnecessarily provocative,” but says he wouldn’t move it back.
  • He backed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that was agreed under President Obama, which he said halted Iran’s nuclear weapons development “without firing a single shot.”
  • He told CFR he would rejoin the agreement, from which Trump withdrew, conditioned on Iran’s return to compliance. He says he would end Trump’s “reckless” confrontation with Iran and begin new negotiations over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its “destabilizing behavior” in the region.
  • He criticizes Trump for giving Saudi Arabia a “blank check” for “abhorrent” behavior, and says preserving U.S.-Saudi relations will require major changes by Riyadh.
  • He argues that the United States should stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s “brutal campaign” in Yemen with arms and other military aid.
  • He says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has “blood on his hands” for ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling for U.S. sanctions on those responsible. O’Rourke has also criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, particularly the lack of rights for women, saying there “must be consequences.”
  • He voted against military intervention in Syria’s civil war in 2014 and opposed the 2011 intervention in Libya, decrying them as “factor[s] in the destabilization of the Middle East and the rise of ISIS.”
  • He told CFR that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the United States’ worst foreign policy mistake since the end of World War II, creating a power vacuum that led to the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and entangled U.S. forces in a “quagmire.” He says the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in the country is past due

North Korea

O’Rourke has been highly critical of Trump’s warm relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying the president’s “lack of coherent strategy” has weakened America and done nothing to reduce Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons.

  • O’Rourke told CFR that Trump’s approach has been a “complete failure,” providing Kim with legitimacy while he continues to grow the country’s nuclear stockpile and test fire missiles. 
  • He says he would continue negotiations with Kim, and would be open to a deal that offers partial sanctions relief for North Korea in exchange for a partial rollback of its nuclear program. He says such a deal would have to include international inspections and the ability to “snap back” sanctions. 
  • In the meantime, he says he would increase sanctions on North Korea and work more closely with Japan and South Korea to further “economically isolate” Pyongyang.

Russia

O’Rourke has condemned Trump’s admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, charging that Trump either colluded or tried to collude with Russia on its interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He says Russia is a major threat to U.S. national security and to democracy around the world.

  • O’Rourke condemns Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and says Trump has “offered [Putin] another invitation to do the same.” 
  • He proposes new legislation to protect the U.S. electoral system from Russia and other adversaries, including federal investments in states’ cybersecurity, nationwide risk audits, and requirements for online platforms to increase transparency in political ad buying. 
  • He told CFR that he would “support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russian aggression” by encouraging political reform and energy independence.
  • He pledges to apply new sanctions on Russian officials, oligarchs, and banks that he says “finance efforts to undermine democracy.” He promises to “reinforce” U.S. participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance to protect against Russia.
  • He has previously opposed sending lethal aid to Ukraine to support it against Russia-backed insurgents, saying that U.S. military involvement wouldn’t solve the conflict. In 2015, he was one of two House Democrats to vote against a resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 
  • He says he is for shrinking nuclear stockpiles around the world and pledges to strengthen existing U.S.-Russia nonproliferation treaties. He opposes a $1 trillion modernization of U.S. nuclear forces that began under Obama.

Trade

O’Rourke has been generally supportive of trade, though he has highlighted the downsides of some trade agreements and says any future deals must prioritize labor, environmental, and human rights standards. He opposes Trump’s “disastrous” trade war.

  • O’Rourke offers a four-part trade plan that he says will take advantage of the opportunities trade brings while mitigating harms to workers.
  • While he has spoken out against Chinese trade practices, he says Trump’s tariffs have hurt American farmers, alienated U.S. allies, and failed to change China’s behavior. He promises to revoke them immediately.
  • He says China’s “anti-competitive actions” include currency manipulation, restrictions on market access, and corporate espionage. He would respond by strengthening the World Trade Organization (WTO), creating globally enforceable labor standards, punishing offending Chinese companies, and leading a global coalition to pressure Beijing.
  • He promises to “aggressively” seek new global trade deals, but says any new deal must have strong labor and environmental standards and must not limit governments’ abilities to regulate industries in the public interest. 
  • His plan would also reform the tax code to no longer reward companies that shift jobs and production overseas, increase the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement of multinational firms, and boost federal spending on manufacturing incentives and research and development.  
  • While he is in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), he says it took “a tremendous toll” on Texas and should be upgraded to improve worker rights in Mexico. 
  • He also says NAFTA has created new jobs and opportunities for the United States, and he has opposed Trump’s renegotiation efforts. 
  • In 2015, O’Rourke voted for so-called fast track legislation for President Obama’s Asia-Pacific trade deal, the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He now says he would not support rejoining the TPP without new negotiations to strengthen labor and environmental standards.

Venezuela and Latin America

O’Rourke says Trump’s policy in Latin America is a “complete disaster” and that the “worst idea” is threatening U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. He says he will focus on delivering humanitarian aid and fostering a democratic transition.

  • O’Rourke says he recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, not Nicolas Maduro, but that he opposes any kind of military intervention there. He argues that a long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America has contributed to instability and mass migration.
  • He told CFR he would support a transition toward a Guaido government by facilitating talks between the opposition and the regime. He says he would use targeted measures such as asset seizures to pressure regime officials.   
  • He pledges to reverse Trump’s “politicization” of humanitarian aid and immediately grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status, which would allow them to live and work in the United States.
  • Other Latin America policies include his plan to offer $5 billion in aid to help El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras bolster their economies and the rule of law to address migration at its source.
  • He praises the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba, which Trump has since revoked, saying he would “stop the embargo” and normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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