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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat turned political celebrity, called on President Joe Biden to work on policy that is “bold and politically challenging” ahead of the 2024 election during a Harvard Institute of Politics forum Thursday.
During Thursday’s forum, which was moderated by IOP fall fellow Andrea R. Flores ’10, immigration and gun control took center stage. In October, the Biden administration announced plans to extend the wall at the southern border and a the U.S. was rocked by a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, which draw scrutiny toward state and federal gun laws.
Despite losing back-to-back statewide races for U.S. Senate and governor as well as staging an unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, O’Rourke said he remains committed to bolstering the Democratic Party in Texas, declaring that the state is turning blue “faster than any other state right now.”
“We need you to stay registered in Texas, to be voting in Texas, to keep the faith and keep up the fight because we will prevail,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a matter of time and effort.”
Running two statewide campaigns in the Republican stronghold of Texas, O’Rourke endorsed traditionally unpopular stances in the state from supporting gun control to immigration reform.
“People were like, ‘You gotta wear cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat and have a gun in your holster if you want to do well in Texas,’” O’Rourke said. “Fuck that, that’s not who I am. I am who I am and I’m going to say what I really believe.”
O’Rourke, who challenged Biden for the presidential nomination in 2020, said he supports Biden as the party’s nominee in an expected race against former President Donald Trump. O’Rourke endorsed Biden after suspending his campaign in November 2019.
But O’Rourke encouraged Biden to “step up and be bold” on policy to motivate the Democratic base and reach the broader electorate.
“These are the candidates that we have been dealt,” O’Roruke said. “This is the hand we're going to have to play right now, whether we like it or not.”
“It is no secret that Democratic voters are unexcited about Biden and that’s putting it politely,” he added.
In an interview after the forum, O’Rourke called on Biden to do “something bold, something big,” to match the tone of his 2020 campaign and offered the President a suggestion: tackle the crisis at the southern border head-on.
“What if you could step out of convention, step out of what has been deemed safe by polling in the wizards behind the curtain, and you just said what you knew to be true, but you did it for good?” O’Rourke said.
“Increase instead of restrict asylum, to improve processing for those who come here, to get them work authorization so they are not dependent on charity or draining public coffers, but to earn a paycheck, provide for themselves a family and pay back into this country like every immigrant who’s ever come to America has done,” he added.
O’Rourke acknowledged that immigration policy is a daunting task and more than a campaign stump speech, but has the potential to “electrify the Democratic base” ahead of the 2024 election.
“Democrats have a real and honest answer, but it takes a while to explain it, you know — ‘Build a wall,’ that’s on a bumper sticker,” he said.
During O’Rourke’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign, a mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of 21 people, but on election day, he lost the district and state by double digits despite strongly advocating for gun control.
O’Rourke attributed this to the “rigged elections” caused by voter suppression, not a lack of appetite for real gun reform.
“My argument is it’s not because they don’t care and it’s not because they lack the love for this great democracy,” he said, noting that more than nine million eligible Texans did not vote. “It is because we are the most voter-suppressed state in America today.”
While O’Rourke said he has no immediate plans for elected office, he encouraged students in attendance to seize the moment as America’s current leaders and “run for office.”
“I hate hearing you’re the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “No, you’re the leaders right now and we’re expecting greatness so get after it.”
—Staff writer Thomas J. Mete can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thomasjmete.
—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @asherjmont.
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