Not long ago, Beto O’Rourke was still uncertain if he would run for president in 2020, but after pulling off a three-city tour through El Paso, Houston and Austin in his home state of Texas on Saturday, it’s clear he is energized and ready for the long-haul on the national stage.
Standing in front of the glowing light of the state Capitol, O’Rourke capped off his final rally of the day in Austin, where thousands were packed around his stage as he called for unity in the country.
“So let’s decide now, whatever the differences between us -- where you live, who you love, who you voted for in the last election -- none of that matters, given what we face right now,” O’Rourke said to a crowd of thousands of supporters. “Before anything else, let us decide that we are Americans first.”
The former congressman thanked supporters for “transforming and changing the face of democracy” during his failed Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
O’Rourke, 46, called his narrow defeat “nothing short of a miracle” after losing by only 215,000 votes in a deep red state and said he hoped to build on that momentum as he sets his sights on the White House.
During his first rally in his hometown of El Paso, 6,000 people packed a downtown intersection to see O’Rourke, according to a campaign official.
There, he spoke of welcoming immigrants to the United States, saying “they were called to contribute to our shared success and to this country’s greatness, and they have.”
O’Rourke used a backdrop of the U.S.-Mexico border to deliver his first large-scale campaign event and pointed out a temporary shelter beneath the city’s Paso del Norte International Bridge, where a group of migrants has been placed while waiting to be processed due to overflow at nearly every U.S. Customs and Border Protection migrant processing center.
“Those who are just three or four blocks from here, detained under the international bridge that connects us with Mexico behind chain-link fence and barbed wire … they are our fellow human beings.”
In a veiled swipe at President Donald Trump, O’Rourke said the U.S. needs to end “love affairs with dictators and strongmen all around the world,” and re-prioritize foreign policy to help “countries and people who are literally connected to us by land.”
This past week, Trump threatened to close southern U.S. ports of entries if Mexico doesn’t stop illegal immigration.
While it remains unclear whether Trump will make good on this threats to close the southern border, late Friday night, U.S. State Department officials announced that Trump has cut all direct assistance to the so-called Northern Triangle nations of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The three countries are the primary source of migrants to the U.S., but for years the U.S. has worked with them to stabilize their political environments and economies and end violence and corruption so that migrants wouldn’t leave in the first place.
The surprise move to cut the funding left many top officials in the Trump administration straining to explain why these funds, described as key to stemming migration, would be cut off.
Without directly addressing the latest moves and threats from Trump, O'Rourke championed the values that the nation's immigration policies have traditionally promoted.
“We are safe because we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers,” O'Rourke told the crowd in El Paso. “They are human beings and deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings.”
The former Texas congressman has had a busy schedule since announcing he will seek the Democratic nomination for president in a March 14 video, visiting a total of nine states, including key battleground areas like Iowa and New Hampshire.
A Quinnipiac University poll of the Democratic presidential field released on March 28 showed O’Rourke is in third place nationally with 12 percent of voters saying they would support him in 2020. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not announced whether he'll run for president, topped that list with 29 percent.