Elections 2020FederalHealthcareImmigration & BorderIssuesBeto O’Rourke Caught in the Middle of Democratic Debate Rift

The former Texas congressman stood between more moderate and progressive candidates—both figuratively and literally—trying to find his place among the pack.
July 31, 2019
If the second Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night could be encapsulated in any single moment, it might have been the first two words Senator Bernie Sanders uttered when the questions began: “You’re wrong.”

The full lineup for the debate in the order of polling positions was:

  • Bernie Sanders — Senator, Vermont
  • Elizabeth Warren — Senator, Massachusetts 
  • Pete Buttigieg — Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
  • Beto O’Rourke — Former Representative, Texas
  • Amy Klobuchar — Senator, Minnesota 
  • John Hickenlooper — Former Governor, Colorado
  • Tim Ryan — Representative, Ohio
  • John Delaney — Former Representative, Maryland
  • Marianne Williamson — Author, Texas
  • Steve Bullock — Governor, Montana

The evening was full of progressive, marginally less progressive, and more moderate candidates arguing with one another about the best policies to pursue, especially when it came to “Medicare for All,” illegal immigration, and the “Green New Deal.”

Sen. Sanders’ initial words were a response to criticism from John Delaney, a former U.S. representative from Maryland. Delaney said that Sen. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan was “political suicide,” since it would strip 150 million Americans away from their current health insurance plans, according to the CNN moderator.

Senator Elizabeth Warren agreed with Sen. Sanders on the issue.

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Meanwhile, Governor Steve Bullock of Montana agreed with the more moderate candidates on the stage, suggesting that the country consider expanding Obamacare instead.

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas representative from El Paso, stood between the moderate and progressive candidates—both figuratively and literally.

He said he did not agree with “Medicare for All,” Sen. Sanders’ plan, but rather his own: “Medicare for America.”

O’Rourke’s plan has been labeled as “moderate” by CNN, but still seeks to shift to a system of so-called “universal” healthcare, gradually moving every American into a government-provided, taxpayer-funded healthcare system.

Unlike Sen. Sanders’ proposal, O’Rourke would not immediately force Americans to lose their current employer-provided health insurance. Nevertheless, uninsured Americans, those currently enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare plans, and every newborn would be automatically added to the government-managed plan.

Some prominent healthcare experts have therefore argued that O’Rourke’s proposal would still ultimately ban private medicine.

Marianne Williamson, an author and Houston native, also said she had “concerns” with Sen. Sanders’ proposal. “I do have concerns about what the Republicans would say and that’s not just a Republican talking point,” she told the audience. “I have concern that it will make it harder to win, and I have concern that it will make it harder to govern. Because if that’s our big fight, then the Republicans will so shut us down on everything else.” 

The candidates also sparred over immigration policy. Again, the debate centered around former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s plan to decriminalize illegal immigration.

O’Rourke reiterated that he opposed the plan, while Sen. Warren said that she wanted to decriminalize illegal border crossings.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana responded that he did not entirely oppose decriminalizing illegal immigration, saying, “We can argue over the finer points of which parts should be handled by civil law and criminal law.”

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper mixed the rhetoric from both political perspectives. He said that America needed to secure its border, adding, “The frustration with what’s going on in Washington is they are kicking the ball back and forth. Secure the borders and make sure whatever law we have doesn’t allow children to be snatched from parents and put in cages.”

When it came to the so-called “Green New Deal,” there was also a clear line between the progressive and more moderate Democratic candidates.

While Delaney and Hickenlooper both said that climate change needs to be addressed, they argued that the Green New Deal proposal had too many policies unrelated to climate change packed into it.

Sens. Warren and Sanders, both of whom co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, defended the proposal. However, neither said why they refused to vote on it when it was brought to the Senate floor.

O’Rourke said that there was an urgency to address climate change within “the next ten years.”

Williamson also offered her perspective on the environmental issue as it related to the Flint water crisis. She said that there is “environmental injustice” that is part of “the dark underbelly of American society.”

“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this President is bringing up in this country then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days,” the Houstonian added.

The evening may have been the last time several of the candidates will have participated in the Democratic presidential debates.

While the four top-performing candidates—Sen. Sanders, Sen. Warren, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke—have already qualified for the fall debates, the six others still need a breakout in the polls and fundraising.

O’Rourke’s campaign has struggled since his debate performance last month, where he was criticized by Castro for opposing his plan to decriminalize illegal immigration.

However,  a recent poll from the University of Texas at Tyler found that more Texan voters are opposed to decriminalizing illegal immigration than are supportive of it, at 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Over 26 percent of Texas Democrats and 69.5 percent of left-leaning independents responding to the same poll also said that O’Rourke was their first choice.

That was more than the next top candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, who sat at 24.4 percent with Democrats and 5.1 percent with independents.

In contrast, only 3.3 percent of Democrats and nearly no independents said that Castro was their first choice. 

The former Texas representative also underperformed in fundraising. O’Rourke raised $3.6 million in the last quarter compared to top candidates such as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren raising almost $20 million each.

A second debate featuring the ten other candidates, including Castro, will be held on Wednesday night. 

CNN will televise the debate scheduled to begin at 7 PM CST.


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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.