The following is a transcript of the interview with presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke that aired Sunday, May 26, 2019, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to “Face the Nation.” We begin today with former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination. We caught up with him yesterday in his hometown of El Paso, on the border of Mexico.
So there are about 16,000 migrants in U.S. detention facilities right now. What should happen to them?
O’ROURKE: Most of those asylum seeking migrants pose no threat or danger to the United States. We know from past history that when we connect them with case managers in a community, they have a ninety nine percent chance of meeting their court dates and their appointments with ICE. In other words, we do a better job of helping them to follow our laws when they have case managers in the community. And it costs us a tenth of what we pay to keep them in detention and in custody.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So in other words, catch and release is something you support.
O’ROURKE: No, I wouldn’t call it catch and release. I- I’d call it helping those who are seeking asylum in this country to follow our laws. If at the end of that process they must return to their country of origin, I want to make sure that they follow our laws and go back to the country from which they- they left in the first place. I think we’ve got to ask ourselves, during an administration that has caged children, that has deported their moms back to the very countries from which they’ve fled, that have continued this separation that is visiting a cruelty and a torture on these families, that has lost the lives of six children within our custody- whether or not we can do better and live our values, and whether or not there will be a reckoning and accountability for this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but just to put a fine point on it: you’re talking about 16,000 people in custody right now. Are you saying that migrants who cross, and do so not through port of entry, who are here through illegal means, essentially, that they would not be detained in an O’Rourke administration?
O’ROURKE: Not necessarily in every case. But I think the vast majority of families and children who are fleeing the deadliest countries on the face of the planet, who are seeking asylum in this country – they don’t try to flee arrest. They don’t try to evade detection. Those families pose no threats or risk to this country –
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should they be detained together, those families?
O’ROURKE: Those families, if they pose no threat to this country or to the communities in which they are apprehended should be released with a case manager who ensures that they follow our laws, that they attend their court hearings, that they meet their appointments with an ICE officer.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your campaign. There are some headlines I’ll read for you: The Washington Post this week cited “Brutal New 2020 Numbers for Beto O’Rourke,” “Beto O’Rourke Blew It,” “The Beto Balloon Burst.” What are you doing wrong? Do you think you’re doing something wrong?
O’ROURKE: Look, I feel really good about the way that we’re campaigning. I’m going to people where they are in their communities. No me importa – I do not care how red or blue, rural or urban, I’m showing up to listen to them. And what they’re telling me is they want this country to come together around our shared challenges. So, I’m listening to them more than I am to the headline
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have, though, relaunched, acknowledging that things weren’t registering for you. You’ve apologized for the Vanity Fair cover. Can you escape some of those first impressions of you?
BETO O’ROURKE: Listen the- the only way that I’m going to have any chance is to go everywhere, meet with everyone, leave no one behind and take no one for granted. So- so that’s what I’m focused on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this saying, though, that maybe with the Vanity Fair cover and- and the big launch that you looked out of step?
O’ROURKE: I don’t know about that. Listen. The opportunities that I’ve had to meet with people – the snarkiness, the cynicism, all that is gone. It’s folks wanting to know that we’re gonna find a way to ensure that every child can go to school without worried about whether or not they’re gonna come home at the end of the day in this epidemic of gun violence. Having those conversations on the issues that are most important to them is what drives me. It- it produces this relentless energy that we’ve got in our campaign to make sure that we connect, draw people in and meet these historic challenges together, so I feel really good about doing this. And listen there are going to be highs and lows in this campaign. There have been in every campaign that I have ever run. But if we stay focused on people the very reason that we’re doing this in the first place, bringing them in and allowing them to contribute to the solutions to the challenges that we face, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think the party needs generational change?
O’ROURKE: I’m driven by the people who see the urgency of this moment, who- who understand that we’ve got ten years left to us to meet this challenge of climate change after which these floods and fires and droughts and disasters will pale in comparison. Those students who are talking to me about gun violence. The folks who demand that we have universal guaranteed high quality care. All I know is that we need to match that with a relentless energy that brings in people who may have been left out before. And what I hope that I’ve been able to demonstrate in Texas, leading the largest grassroots campaign in our state’s history is that we were able to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you’re saying yes. It sounds like you’re saying you need more sort of revolution versus the idea of restoration. You need a young candidate. Is that what you’re saying someone like you and not a Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders who are in their 70s?
O’ROURKE: We need to be able to bring in new energy. We need to be able to bring in new voters. We need to make sure that this democracy, so badly damaged, works for everyone. All I’m saying is that the way that I campaign, this- this relentless pursuit of people wherever they are, learning their stories incorporating what’s most important to them in their lives into this campaign, and into the service that I want to perform for this country is what we need at this very divided moment. So that’s the way that I offer my service going forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you support this latest bailout of farmers?
O’ROURKE: From listening to farmers that I’ve met all over this country and especially in Iowa, they’re not looking for bailouts they want to connect with those markets that they have worked a lifetime to establish. Markets that are now closed to them–
MARGARET BRENNAN: China?
O’ROURKE: –because of this trade war, because of these tariffs. They’re no longer able to make a profit doing what they do best and they will not be able to pass these farms and ranches on to the next generation. So yes, in the short term we absolutely have to make sure that they’re okay, but we should never have been in this place in the first place. And what we see right now is yet another example of President Trump being both the arsonist who created this problem in the first place and the firefighter who wants the credit for addressing it through this bailout.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who is America’s greatest adversary right now?
O’ROURKE: We face a number of- of adversaries on- on the world stage from ISIS to- to North Korea to Iran. And yet the adversary that has successfully invaded this country through our democracy, Russia, through their leader, Vladimir Putin, is the country and the person who this president holds closest. After the Mueller Report was released our president called Vladimir Putin, spent an hour on the phone with him, described the resulting report as a hoax giving Putin a green light to further interfere in our democracy. We’ve got the most dangerous person who’s ever held office in the White House right now who’s inviting the involvement of our- our greatest adversaries. And we’ve got to be able to stand up not as Democrats, but as Americans to this challenge. And so I want to make sure that we do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you say one nice thing about President Trump?
O’ROURKE: Listen. When I was first elected to Congress the greatest challenge that we faced here in this country and especially in this city was the inability for veterans to be able to get in and see a mental health care provider. It was producing a crisis in suicide that is claiming 20 veterans’ lives a day. As a member of Congress, we wrote legislation to improve access to mental health care for veterans, worked with Republican colleagues to get that done. And that bill was signed into law by President Trump. I agree with him on almost nothing but the fact that we were able to find the common ground to get this done to serve those who have put their lives on the line for this country is something that I’m grateful to him for.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about some of those things regarding veterans. Do you think President Trump was right to send these fifteen hundred troops to the Middle East to counter the Iran threat?
O’ROURKE: No. President Trump is escalating tensions, is provoking yet another war in the Middle East where we find ourselves already engaged in war in so many countries – in Iraq in Syria in Yemen, not too far from there in Libya and in Afghanistan. So, we don’t need another war. We need to find a way to work with allies and partners and in some cases with our enemies.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So do you doubt the U.S. intelligence that said there was a threat on the ground to U.S. forces in Iraq?
O’ROURKE: I- I have a really hard time believing this administration and believing a- a president who has so wantonly lied and misconstrued the facts at every single turn to his own gain. I’m- I’m suspicious of a national security team that has so often called for war. You have someone in- in– Bolton, who has publicly said that he wants regime change in Iran. The body count in- in that kind of war on- on both sides will not be measured in the hundreds or the thousands but the tens or hundreds of thousands. If there is a peaceful alternative to this- and I know that there is- then we must do everything within our power to pursue it. And that’s what I would do in my administration. I’d stick up for our values, make sure that we defend our allies, protect the lives of our fellow Americans. But do that peacefully where we can. Otherwise, we will produce more wars, more veterans coming back to this country seeking the care that they are being effectively and functionally denied today. I think we need to do far better going forward, and I know that we can.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Lastly, there are 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. You hear almost no discussion of the war that continues to rage there. How do you handle that? Do you bring those troops home?
MARGARET BRENNAN: When?
O’ROURKE: We’ve got to end our war in Afghanistan–
MARGARET BRENNAN: How?
O’ROURKE: We’ve got to make sure that we satisfy the conditions that first led us to go to war in the first place. That those who perpetrated 9/11 are brought to justice. That Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks on the United States of America or Americans. We have satisfied those conditions. Now it is time for us to work with the partners in the region to produce a lasting peace and stability and bring our U.S. service members back home.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And that includes the Taliban – brokering a peace deal with them and bringing them into the government?
O’ROURKE: Sometimes, you don’t have the fortune of working just with your allies, your friends, or the people with whom you agree. In order to produce peace, you sometimes have to negotiate and work with your enemies. And that’s true for Afghanistan.