TRANSCRIPT: Beto O'Rourke on Maddow 5/13/2019

Hi guys,

Beto O’Rourke just wrapped up his appearance on Maddow. News made: 1) he addresses the AP scoop about his “reintroduction” campaign, and 2) he went after Trump pretty hard.


Q: The Associated Press reported over the weekend that -- you are not relaunching your campaign -- but you're planning sort of a reintroduction to shore up your standing at this point now, with more than 20 people running, did you think that was a fair take?

We've been on the road now for eight weeks, traveling to over 15 states, have held more than 150 town halls, running today the same way that we started. But I recognize I can do a better job also of talking to a national audience beyond the town halls that we're having in New Hampshire, and Iowa, and Nevada, and South Carolina, in Minnesota, and Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania.

I have an opportunity to answer your questions, Rachel and address those who may not have been able to attend them and make sure that they can hear what this campaign is about and how I answer the questions that are put to me.

So I hope that I'm continuing to do better over time, but we've been extraordinarily fortunate with the campaign that we've run so far, the volunteers and grassroots supporters who comprise it and conversations that I've learned from in all the communities that I've visited. So I feel really good about it… even better, getting a chance to be here with you tonight.

Q: The sort of radical transparency approach that you took specifically in your Senate campaign against Ted Cruz, that was so effective -- you've carried some of that into the Presidential campaign as well, essentially, sort of showing everything that you're doing all the time, so people get to see you, in every aspect of this campaign -- made me wonder if that makes the whole town hall experience sort of different, like when you're interacting with potential voters in these early states and stuff. They are people who have seen you skateboard around a Whataburger parking lot, right? They've seen you, right, you know, go to the dentist and drive and do all these other things. I wonder if that changes the kinds of questions that you get asked or the way people think they know you.

It might. I mean, I think you're seeing a super engaged, very involved electorate, I think some feared with 21+ candidates. You'd have folks tuning out and instead they're tuning in, they're coming out to these town halls. They're asking really informed questions. And sometimes, yes, they're referring to you know, I saw you in a town hall in Iowa and you were asked about X. Here's how it applies in New Hampshire. And I wonder if that changes your opinion of this issue. So I love that level of engagement. And it's why we hold these town halls if I had all the answers, I wouldn’t need to show up and listen to and learn from people. And I think it also demands a higher level of accountability from me. Everything that I'm saying is streamed to anyone who wants to watch it. So if you wonder whether I pull my punches in one community, a certain demographic, say something different somewhere else. You can go on Facebook and watch all those because they're, they're all archived,

Q: Including a fundraiser that you did, yeah.

Yeah. We held our first fundraiser in the eight weeks that we've been in the campaign, and we live streamed it. And it was a great chance for us to thank those who made that transformational election in Texas possible. Many of them were helpful there. And to also thank them for joining hundreds of thousands of others who've comprised what I hope will be the largest grassroots campaign in American history.

And I wanted to make sure that was live streamed, so that you see again, exactly what I say to that audience, and that group of people.

I think we need at a moment that our democracy is so badly damaged, and under attack, unlike any other time in our lifetimes and from foreign powers from the President of the United States, but also from members of Congress who choose their voters, from political action committees that purchase access and influence and increasingly outcomes. You need accountability through town halls.

You need someone who's willing to run without the help of PAC money or lobbyists or corporations, or -- or special interests, and you need to put people and their concerns and their solutions to those concerns front and center.

And that's -- that's what we're doing in this campaign.

Q: In terms of democracy, and it's challenges right now, one of the things that I actually found very moving about your Texas campaign is that -- as somebody in the national media looking from the east coast to you running against Ted Cruz in Texa -- I was obviously looking at that through a partisan lens, trying to see, you know, what the chances were for a blue statewide candidate in red state Texas, and you consistently denied that that was the right way to look at it. And you talked about Texas, not as a blue state or a red state, but a non-voting state. And that --  A) it's true, and B) it's also got national resonance, too.

And I think that diagnosis to me was striking and, and moving. I still don't know how you fix it, though. And I know you would intend to, if you want to run the biggest grassroots campaign in history, you intend to get a lot more people voting than otherwise intend to, but how do you do it?

Yeah. So you're right in terms of Texas being fiftieth in the country in voter turnout. That's not an accident of partisan affiliation. It is by design. People based on the color of their skin, their country of national origin, drawn out of districts to diminish the power of their vote, the likelihood that we would hear their voice.

And the answer to that was not just going to every one of the 254 counties of Texas, but going to every community within those counties and bringing everyone into the conversation. Doesn't matter how blue, we're not going to take you for granted. Doesn't matter how small, how red, how rural, we're not going to write you off. Everyone's important. Everyone counts in at the end of the day, more votes than any Democrat has ever received in the history of the state of Texas. Young voter turnout up 500%, won independence for the first time in decades. And half a million Republicans in Texas also joined that movement.

So a movement comprised not just an expanded Democratic electorate, but a movement comprised of Democrats, independents and Republicans alike. And now for the first time in at least my adult lifetime maybe since 1976, Texas, and it's 38 electoral college votes have been unlocked, they are in contention and we will have a seat at the table.

So I think this bodes well for our democracy if we can then -- to answer your question -- institute this -- same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration, and end gerrymandering.

Getting big money out of our politics so that members of Congress respond directly to their constituents. And that's what drives the conversation. That's how you get to universal healthcare, immigration reform, confronting climate change before it is too late, and ensuring that we have a much more inclusive and conscientious capitalism going forward to bring everybody in and to meet these historic challenges that we face.

Q: I wonder, procedurally, if you think about trying to run that kind of campaign again, trying to scale that to a national level. Obviously, when you ran in Texas, you raised 80 million freaking dollars, which is more money than anybody has ever raised for any Senate race ever.


Q: In any state. And part of that was, I mean, because of what you're doing in Texas. Part of that was also because you got a lot of national attention for what you were doing in Texas and pulling off what a lot of people thought was impossible. I wonder though I was just talking about that calendar for the Democratic primary. It's like, you know, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. And then it's almost the whole rest of the country. I mean, right away three days after South Carolina, it's Texas, it's California, it's a dozen other states. That makes it really hard to make sure that you're showing up in Michigan, in Oregon, in Wisconsin, in every community, like you're talking about, which was so much a key to how you ran in Texas.

It's hard, but we're doing it. So 15 states in eight weeks, again, more than 150 town halls, and showing up to those town halls is not just a means of introducing myself. It's a way to learn about what's most important to those that I want to serve. So I'll give you an example. We were in Pacific Junction, Iowa, not too far from Missouri River. That town and its entire history has never flooded in any meaningful way. That town, after the Missouri River had the largest runoff through the Missouri River Basin since we've been keeping records, every home in that community was underwater. Every possession those homeowners had bought or created or held dear lost to them forever.

Climate change is happening to that community right now. And they want to make sure that they have someone in an office of trust and power who will deliver.

We were able to talk about the most ambitious plan to confront climate change that we've seen in the United States, to guarantee net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, get there, or at least halfway there by 2030, mobilized $5 billion of investment in communities like Pacific Junction, to ensure that we prepare them before the next disaster.

But also unleash the ingenuity, the innovation, the inventions necessary for us to -- to meet this challenge and to free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels and fully embrace renewable energy.

So having that conversation in -- not the most likely place for a Democrat to be -- is a way to contend everywhere just like we did in the 254 counties of Texas. It'll take a lot of time. A lot of miles, a lot of hours but I'm willing to put in the work and so far we have a very pleased with the results.

Q: I have lots more to ask you. Former congressman Beto O'Rourke is our guest, we’ll be right back with him right after this.

Q: Thank you for sticking with us. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to my eye right now to be popping like a skillet full of popcorn with a lid off. He keeps changing his schedule. He keeps pinging places around the world that he didn't say he was going to go to, keeps canceling other meetings, he just canceled the meeting with Germany, canceled a meeting with Greenland, went to -- unexpectedly and crashed somebody else's meeting in Brussels. He is planning on meeting with Vladimir Putin tomorrow. I wonder if somebody who's experienced on the Armed Services Committee, somebody who served in Congress, if you feel like there are reasons for people to be worried right now about what's going on with National Security Advisor John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, with them appearing to be beating the drums for war with Iran, with what appears to be something frenetic going on Secretary of State’s schedule, the President hosting authoritarian leader Viktor Orban today at the White House. A lot of people I think are looking at those different pieces moving around and seeing that there -- there's something worrying and new in Trump era foreign policy. How do you view it?

Trump's foreign policy has been a complete disaster for the United States and for the world and has made us less, not more, safe, as a candidate invited the participation of Russia in our election. They dutifully responded the same day.

As President, he sought to cover up or obstruct justice and prevent us from understanding the truth, and -- and avoid the consequences that Russia needs to feel in order to prevent them from involving themselves in our democracy again.

In fact, the Mueller report is released and one of the first phone calls he makes is to Vladimir Putin, with whom he spends an hour on the phone, to whom he describes the entire investigation as a hoax.

If that's not a green light for further intervention and involvement in our democracy, I don't know what is.

His cozying up to strong men like Putin or Duterte or Erdogan or Al Sisi, his signal to the world as to there's an open question about whether the future is authoritarian or democratic… it makes our way in the world that much harder, because at the same time, he's turned his back on our allies, on our friends, on those connections that we have forged in sacrifice, that have made us so strong.

The only time article five of the NATO Mutual Defense treaty is invoked is when we were attacked on -- on 9/11.

He describes falling in love with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and has done nothing to diminish their capacity to harm our service members in Seoul, our allies in the region or to deliver those nuclear weapons to the United States of America.

You asked about Iran as well. You know, I think during the Obama administration, we had a guide to how we could resolve otherwise intractable problems, peacefully, without invading yet another country without firing another shot, without sacrificing another U.S. service member.

Negotiating directly with Iran, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany, we were able to halt that country's progress towards development of a nuclear weapon. That kind of peaceful, non-military diplomatic-led foreign policy is what we need more of if we're going to confront climate change, which will require the entire world, work on nuclear non proliferation, get out of the wars that we’re in, 18 years and counting, in Afghanistan, 20 years, U.S. military presence in Iraq,

And then also focus on those priorities that we have neglected like the Western Hemisphere, those countries and people to whom we are connected by land and language, and increasingly, families, to the point that we were surprised when tens of thousands of kids literally showed up at our front door at the Texas-Mexico border.

This President, that Secretary of State, want to cut all foreign aid to the northern triangle countries. Instead, let's double it. Let's focus on violence reduction, so fewer families have to make that journey.

We don't need to greet them with cages for their kids or walls, we can have an intelligent diplomatic-led foreign policy. That's what I want to be able to do in our administration.

Q: There has been a roiling crisis in Venezuela now for a very long time, which recently has had a form of intervention by our government that I'm not sure we understand, in part because of the difference in the way the President talks about it from other people in his administration. Do you know what the Trump administration's policy is in Venezuela? And what would you do differently?

I don't totally understand the administration's policy.

I know that President Trump has threatened military intervention in Venezuela, which is about the worst idea. I do think we need to recognize Juan Guido as the lawful interim president, which we have, as have 50 other countries.

We need to help the people of Venezuela as they face a crisis in food and medication, and precipitate yet another humanitarian crisis in -- in the hemisphere. But if -- if we haven't learned from our overthrow of the democratically elected government, in Guatemala in 1954, the after effects we are still feeling today, or our involvement in civil wars in El Salvador, or Nicaragua, or this war on drugs that we have foisted on the rest of this hemisphere, which has produced so much of the misery that we see showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border today, then we are doomed to repeat these same mistakes

We need to work collaboratively and cooperatively with the other nations of the Americas to address these issues non violently, to place at a premium these humanitarian concerns and address somewhere people are, before they come to our country because they surely will, again, if history is any guide. So I don't know what the President’s strategy is, but -- but we would have a strategy that addresses those problems there and works collaboratively with the other regional partners.

Q: Beto O’Rourke, Texas Congressman, former Texas Congressman, candidate for President in a very crowded Democratic field. I hope you'll come back. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.