Beto on Immigration: I Dunno, What Do You Guys Think?

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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is celebrating his first month out of Congress by indulging some rampant speculation about what he’ll do next, including a potential run for president in 2020. On Tuesday, the Washington Post published a lengthy interview with O’Rourke where reporter Jenna Johnson essentially grilled O’Rourke on what he actually believes. After reading it, it’s still very difficult to answer that question.

Over and over throughout the interview, O’Rourke defaults to non-answers, calling for a “national debate” on immigration. Take this answer on how to address people who overstay their visas, which is the primary reason most undocumented people become “undocumented” in the first place:

“I don’t know,” O’Rourke said, pausing in a lengthy interview.

O’Rourke, who represented a border district in the House for six years, talked through the issue and came up with a possible solution: The United States could harmonize its visa system with Mexico’s to keep better track of who is coming into the country and leaving it.

“That’s an answer,” he said, “but that’s something that we should be debating.”

It’s not just immigration, either—take this, on President Donald Trump’s proposed plan to withdraw troops from Syria:

When asked whether he agrees with Trump’s plan to quickly withdraw troops from Syria, O’Rourke said he would like to see “a debate, a discussion, a national conversation about why we’re there, why we fight, why we sacrifice the lives of American service members, why we’re willing to take the lives of others” in all the countries where the U.S. is involved.

“There may be a very good reason to do it. I don’t necessarily understand — and I’ve been a member of Congress for six years,” O’Rourke said. “We haven’t had a meaningful discussion about these wars since 2003.”


Why does O’Rourke think this way? He explained:

“That’s a problem when you’re like, ‘It will be a wall,’ or ‘It will be this,’ or ‘We can only do it with this,’” O’Rourke said when asked why he doesn’t have firm stances. “The genius is we can nonviolently resolve our differences, though I won’t get to my version of perfect or I, working with you, will get to something better than what we have today . . . It’s rare that someone’s ever been able to impose their will unilaterally in this country. We don’t want that.”

He insists that once Americans are informed about “the facts and the story and the information and the opportunity,” they will come to the right conclusions about what to do about an issue that has divided the country for decades.

“I trust the wisdom of people. And I’m confident — especially after having traveled Texas for two years — people are good, fundamentally, and if given the choice to do the right thing, they will. To do the good thing, they will,” he said, referring to his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign while giving a walking tour of El Paso and its Mexican sister city, Juarez.


Speaking in platitudes about this might be understandable if O’Rourke wasn’t particularly invested in the issue and was running on healthcare or climate change or tax credits for small businesses or whatever instead; as the Post helpfully points out, he didn’t prioritize immigration for much of his six years in the House. It is an extremely weird way, however, to approach an issue O’Rourke now considers to be a political focus. It’s good to listen to constituents and would-be constituents, but speaking in vague terms about coming together to resolve differences doesn’t cut it when the opposing party is willing to shut down the government in an effort to get funding for the wall. There’s two sides and not much of a gray area on this: Defend immigrants or don’t.

Forget about the presidential campaign for a second and compare O’Rourke’s immigration platform during his Senate campaign with what he told the Post. He didn’t advocate for the abolition of ICE or CBP, but he also didn’t run on wishy-washy nonsense about listening to everyone before you can decide on a way to reform the immigration system. This gets at one of the main reasons why mainstream liberal Democrats (and even some lefties) were drawn to O’Rourke so strongly in the first place: He was running a competitive campaign in Texas, and yet wasn’t going out of his way to cater to Republicans in the same way that Joe Donnelly in Indiana or Claire McCaskill in Missouri did. And he did better than both of them in a state where no Democrat has won statewide in decades.

It’s easy to write this off as O’Rourke not trying to pigeonhole himself into one answer on immigration or another while deciding what he wants to do next. But considering the campaign he literally just ran, this seems like an active regression. We know you have actual beliefs. Just say what they are.