Beto O'Rourke Focuses On Border, Climate Change In San Diego Town Hall
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke made the border, immigration and climate change key points in a town hall event held in San Diego on Tuesday, as he competes for attention in the crowded field of candidates.
O'Rourke opened with brief remarks in Spanish and touted his own border city origins as a former city councilman in El Paso, Texas. He said both his home city and San Diego are safer than the average city in the interior of the country because their diversity teaches residents to treat one another with dignity and respect.
"That is what has made us safer," O'Rourke said. "Not walls, not putting kids in cages, not sending 5,500 members of the United States military to a border at one of its safest moments in the history of the U.S.-Mexico border."
O'Rourke also spoke of "comprehensive immigration reform" that would include a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" — people brought to the United States illegally as children — and some form of legalization for their parents, as well as the millions of other undocumented immigrants in the country.
"We must use this as an opportunity to rewrite this country's immigration laws in our own image," he said.
When taking questions from audience members, O'Rourke was asked by a self-described "lifetime Republican" what he would do to attract support from conservatives unhappy with the Trump administration. O'Rourke replied by referencing bipartisan legislation he supported as a congressman in the Democratic minority, and federal investments in El Paso's border crossings that won bipartisan support.
"We were able to get legislation passed to expand mental health care access for veterans, to protect public lands in El Paso, Texas, in a state that isn't known for federal protection of public lands," he said. "We would find the common ground to pursue the common cause, would not allow party affiliation to stand in our way."
O'Rourke added that he came within roughly two and a half percentage points of defeating incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in last year's mid-term elections and that some 500,000 Texans voted for both him and conservative Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The event at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation came one day after O'Rourke unveiled a $5 trillion proposal to address climate change. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, mass transit and infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Speaking to the crowd Tuesday, O'Rourke also mentioned policies to help farmers plant "cover crops" that can enhance soil fertility and capture carbon from the air — a practice already being implemented in California.
"We cannot do this by half measure, and we cannot do this with only half the country," O'Rourke said of climate action. "None of the differences right now can further divide us. Instead, we must be known by our ambitions, our aspirations, the work, the service, the sacrifice that we will employ in order to achieve them."
Gloria Vargas, 52, said she found O'Rourke personable and genuine, and that she would now rank him among her top three preferred candidates.
"When I came in I was a little bit skeptical, but now I think he's a pretty good guy," she said.
Joe Bettles, 32, described himself as "Beto-curious." He said he appreciated O'Rourke's charisma and ability to connect with young people, but that the candidate appears to do better in large arenas than more intimate campaign events.
"There are times when he's giving a speech when I'd like him to connect more personally, especially during the town hall," he said. "I think what people are looking for is genuine sincerity and connection with the voters, and I don't know if I saw that today."
San Diego is expected to host more presidential primary candidates than in years past, after California moved up its primary election to March 2020.