Beto O’Rourke has taken questions from the crowds at nearly all of his more than 150 events as a presidential candidate – and in his CNN town hall Tuesday night, it showed.
The former Texas congressman spent the first two months of his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination collecting details and anecdotes along the campaign trail, often writing them down in a notebook. He’s now using those stories to underscore the human impact of the policies of President Donald Trump, at which he is taking aim.
Here are six takeaways from O’Rourke’s CNN town hall:
1. Blaming Trump for rise in hate crimes
O’Rourke’s habit of punctuating his message with examples he’s heard on the trail – with details of who told him and where – was on display when he recalled a girl who’d wondered whether, as an immigrant, she had a place in the United States. He said a Muslim family heard him relay that story in Houston and told him they’d been asked by their young daughter whether they were in the wrong country.
He turned that into a stinging rebuke of Trump, citing the President’s attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who is Muslim, and his comments after white supremacists’ violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Trump, O’Rourke said, “does not just offend our ears and our sensibilities. He makes possible the acts of violence and hatred we’re seeing play out in this country today.”
2. O’Rourke broke with Pelosi on the consequences of impeachment proceedings
For weeks, O’Rourke has called for Congress to begin the process of impeaching Trump. On Tuesday, he took another step, breaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has warned that doing so could energize Trump’s base ahead of the 2020 election.
He said Democrats should “look past those short-term consequences” and focus on obtaining documents and evidence. The only way to do so, he said, is to “compel the testimony, the furnishing of those documents, through impeachment proceedings.”
O’Rourke cited the White House’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas and Attorney General William Barr’s failure to show up at a House hearing in recent weeks in his rationale for calling for impeachment proceedings.
At stake, he said, are the “very sanctity of the ballot box and the very future of the world’s greatest democracy.”
“If we do nothing because we are afraid of the polls or the politics, or the repercussions in the next election, we will set a precedent that, in fact, some people, because of the position of power and public trust that they hold, are above the law,” he said.
3. He’s seeking a national audience
The early stages of O’Rourke’s campaign were all about a personal touch. He has driven more than 6,000 miles himself, sometimes holding six town halls per day in the early-voting states.
But that focus on meeting individual voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada has come with a cost: He hasn’t gained the national audience that other contenders have picked up with televised town halls and interviews.
Tuesday was part of an effort to change that – but O’Rourke also launched a new feature on his campaign website called “Town Hall for America.” His site now includes a button at the top of its homepage that allows people to submit questions.
“I will do my best to get you an answer to each and every single one of those and get you an answer. That level of accountability will make me a better candidate and I hope a better president for you and others,” O’Rourke said.
4. Taking aim at Trump on immigration
A resident of El Paso who can see Ciudad Juárez over the US-Mexico border from his porch, O’Rourke’s strongest issue has long been immigration.
He called for an immigration overhaul that would include giving so-called Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children – citizenship and creating a path to citizenship for other undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
“Let’s do this together, and let’s not do it as Democrats or independents or Republicans, but let’s do it as Americans: Let’s rewrite our immigration laws in our own image,” O’Rourke said Tuesday night.
He criticized Trump’s family separation policy, saying he would “never again separate another family when they come here at their most vulnerable and desperate moment.”
O’Rourke also sharply criticized the President for seeking to cut off $500 million in US aid to the Northern Triangle – a region that encompasses El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where many asylum seekers have fled violence.
“He wants to cut that. I would double it, and I would focus it on violence prevention so that no mother has to make that god-awful decision of sending her child on that 2,000-mile trek,” O’Rourke said. “That’s the wisest, best use of our resources in this hemisphere.”
5. An abortion rights plan
O’Rourke was ready to roll out a plan to protect women’s reproductive rights – and got what might have been his biggest applause of the night from the crowd at Drake University for it.
“As president, I will make sure that every nominee to every federal bench, including the Supreme Court, understands and believes Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land,” O’Rourke said.
His comment comes as Republican-led states – with Alabama at the forefront – enact restrictive laws that all but ban abortion, a series of moves aimed at having the Supreme Court, with a 5-4 conservative majority after Trump’s two appointments, take up the issue.
O’Rourke’s campaign sent reporters the details of his plan, which includes appointing an attorney general who would defend abortion rights; lifting limits on doctors to provide women with information on how they can safely and legally access abortion; seeking the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal dollars from funding abortions; and prohibiting restrictions that bar insurance companies from covering abortions.
6. His time as a live-in nanny and other personal moments
O’Rourke got personal at times, discussing his father, Pat O’Rourke, a local politician in El Paso who was killed when his bicycle was struck by an automobile in 2001.
“I’d like to think that he would be proud, the way that we’re doing this. Being with people, having fun, all about connecting with folks where they are, where they live. My dad, Pat O’Rourke, never met a stranger. Loved every second of being alive. Found total joy in serving others,” he said.
He also talked about working as a live-in nanny briefly in New York City after graduating from Columbia University.
“So I, after college I was trying to live in the city, trying to live in New York, and I was working full time but I still didn’t have enough money to pay the rent,” O’Rourke said.
A family, he said, made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
O’Rourke agreed to watch their children after school and on weekends, walking them to school and making them breakfast in exchange for an apartment above theirs.
“Great deal. And so I took them up on that, and a great experience early on,” he said.