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Beto O’Rourke Talks About Bipartisanship, PACs, and Marijuana

An interview with the Democrat challenging Ted Cruz.

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Beto O'Rourke at the Scholz Garten in Austin on April 1.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich

This past weekend, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge the reelection of incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Between events, I caught O’Rourke at a bus stop at the corner of 11th Street and Congress Avenue in Austin, across the street from the Texas Capitol. The podcast that follows is an edited version of our conversation.

A few excerpts:

Beto O’Rourke: “We have become overly fixated, not only with our own re-election, which has been deeply damaging to our democracy, not just chasing the donations and corporate cash that makes that possible, but we’ve set up these campaign super structures in our parties, the D-Triple-C [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and the Republican equivalent. And its full time mission is to beat the Will Hurds of the world. … What that does is it reinforces the partisanship and makes it incredibly difficult to work across the aisle.”

BO: “Democrats have been running campaigns funded on corporate cash, running a playbook out of Washington, D.C., and have gotten somewhere between 38 and 41 percent over the last thirty years since the last time we won the Senate with Lloyd Bentsen. So I could kill myself running for Senate, crisscrossing this state meeting people, showing up, working my heart out, leaving my kids home with Amy and come up with 41 percent. That’s not worth anyone’s sacrifice. So I’m going to run to win, and it’s going to require doing this a different way, a better way, a more honest way. My trust is in the people of Texas.”

BO: “No corporate cash, no PAC money, no Super PACs. … Watch me walk the walk. Watch me not take PAC money. Watch me say publicly as I’m saying to you I don’t want any Super PACs to get involved in this race on either side, including my side. And watch me not show up at Super PAC fundraisers courting cash in exchange for access.”

I asked O’Rourke about his mother’s business pleading guilty to currency violations in 2010 that some former opponents likened to money laundering, although that was not part of the federal charge.

BO: “Charlottes Furniture didn’t have the accounting controls in place. They made a mistake. My mom has said as much. And that’s the story.”

Earlier this year, we spoke to political consultant and network television commentator Matthew Dowd, who is considering an independent run for Senate. As the race goes along, from time to time, we will be posting interviews with the various candidates, including Cruz. If U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro of San Antonio enters the Democratic primary, we will seek him out for an interview. In the meantime, please read one he gave to the Texas Observer.

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    Off the subject:

    It is sometimes said that when a candidate for president actually gets to sit behind that big desk in the Oval Office it gives him a quite different view of things than when he was just a candidate. It even can show him that much of what he said during the campaign was wrong. We may have seen an example of that phenomena
    this week in the way President Trump reacted to the chemical attacks on civilians in Syria

    During the campaign Trump was all for bombing terrorists wherever they lived an did not seem to be bothered a bit by fact that such tactics almost always result in “collateral damage” to others upon which the bombs may also fall. In fact, several times he said he had no problem with killing the wives and children of terrorists as part of his plan to wipe out ISIS and other terrorists groups. Nor did he seem to have much concern for the civilians caught in the middle of such attacks such as when Assad and the Russians were bombing Aleppo with both conventional weapons and, according to some reports, barrel bombs of chlorine—acts that passed without
    comment by Trump.

    But this week, after a widely publicized attack on civilians with what appears to be a form of a nerve gas, Trump bitterly condemned Syrian President Assad and promised retaliation for the attack.. And, where before he had said wives and children were legitimate targets, this week he was bewailing the attack on women, children and
    “beautiful little babies”….Most tellingly, Trump even talked about a coalition of powers to remove Assad when only two days before the U.S. had let it be known that it no longer considered a regime change in Syria to be one of its priorities.

    Why this change? What opened his eyes to the true nature of the Assad regime and to the real meaning of collateral damage?

    Perhaps one explanation is that during the campaign Trump appeared not to understand just who Assad was or who Syrian forces were attacking and why. Instead, he even seemed to think that Assad might be some sort of an ally in the fight against terrorism. His remarks at the time suggested that he did not realize there are both “good guys” (authentic Syrian opponents of Assad) as well as “bad guys” (i.e.—ISIS) opposing Assad and that Assad was bombing the good ones more than he was the bad ones. In fact, back then Trump seemed to think that bombing either was serving the cause of fighting terrorism and to accept the collateral damage to civilians without question. This week’s remarks suggest that he may now have a better understanding of the situation—and a realization that Assad is not a potential ally but one of the “bad guys” in a conflicting situation where it is often hard to tell the good from the bad.

    It is a tragedy that it took an act of such pure barbarity to produce this change….but whatever the reason, it is welcome. Let us hope that it also means that we will not again hear a US president so easily dismiss the deaths of wives and children as Trump did in the past.

    • SpiritofPearl

      He’s looking for a way to distract from the Russian connection.

      • WUSRPH

        I admit that I may be almost as cynical as to suggest that part of what Trump is doing is intended to distract attention away from other things…I may have suggested that in a post last week in which I noted that Reagan may have done just that by invading Grenada two days after the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut killed 241 marines. BUT I would really like to think or at least hope that Trump is growing, maybe only just a tiny bit, but still growing in office.

        As to a new war…some reports have him considering hitting the Syrian airfields, etc. (H. Clinton suggested that today) but that is of limited impact unless you keep doing it….In addition, the chlorine barrel bombs that were supposedly dropped on Aleppo were dropped from helicopters and they do not require elaborate airfields from which to operate.

        If we hit their airfields Trump will probably want to get-in and get-out quickly with as few sorties as possible…..but that works out to being only a gesture and not a permanent solution to the problem. Stopping Assad from these kinds of attacks would probably require the implementation of a “no fly zone” over Syria that some folks were talking about last year. But that has a number of built-in complications.

        First, in a country like Syria unless you have patrols in the air virtually all the time, the other guy can be up—-bomb–and down again before you can react. That means you either wind up attacking defended airfields again or that we would have to operate out of Israeli bases in order to be close enough to make sure that the Syrian forces stay grounded. It also means that we’d have to assign several AWACS to the area.

        And, second, there are also Russian and Turkish aircraft operating over Syria and, unless they agree to step down, which is more than unlikely, you would have to work out very close arrangements with them to insure that they are not mistaken for Syrians.

        In any case, maintaining a no fly zone requires a continuing, long-term commitment which the American people are not likely to support (I can hear JJ now).

        Trump also talked about “regime change” but I doubt that the Russians will support that. They have had a long-relationship with the Assad-family dating back to the Soviet days and he is, in effect, “their man” in the Mid-East. They will complain about the attack—which is no worse than some of what they did in Afghanistan and Chechenia—but they have supported the current Assad and his father when they did things worse than this attack.

        • SpiritofPearl

          Remember how many voted for Trump because they feared “Clinton will start a war”?

          • don76550

            Actually Pearl, I voted against Hillary because she is a serial liar, a career criminal, a pimp for every perversion known to man, an anti American socialist who hates our bill of rights and our country, and who would continue comrade Obama’s destruction of this country. This piece of garbage belongs in prison rather than any elective office.

      • WUSRPH

        Even while we were posting…..the US was hitting Syrian installations with Tomahawk cruise missiles……Cheaper and safer than using manned aircraft, but just the same a real attack. Details still being revealed. You may remember that, after we hit the late unlamented Col. Kaddafi a couple of times, he nd dropped his program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and behaved himself until he was overthrown in the April Spring (and brutally killed)…..Of course, the raid that “convinced” the Colonel to behave dropped a bomb just a few yards away from where he was sleeping (and killed one of his daughters). I doubt any of the missiles got that close to Assad….Time will tell if he gets the message….

        • SpiritofPearl

          Clinton’s attack was widely viewed as a “wag the dog” operation to distract from the Lewinsky scandal.

          The Obama Doctrine, as I understand it, is that America should stay out of regional civil wars. I agree. What possible benefit will our country obtain by getting entangled again? We are at much greater risk from Russia than we are from Syria. I also find it worrisome that an incompetent and his team of neophytes are pulling the levers on this operation.

          We will see how it evolves.

          • BCinBCS

            Pearl, I have to disagree. When a regime systematically and deliberately bombs hospitals, civilians and then uses chemical weapons on those same men women and children, deterrence must be used.

            Comrade Trump/Bannon may be a neophyte but he wisely appears to have put the operation in the hands of the military (I never thought that I’d be saying that) so I cannot fault him for his actions against Syria.

          • SpiritofPearl

            I’m more cynical than you. It is possible that the Russians saw the expose of Trump’s Russian connections as threatening and encouraged Assad in some way. Remember that the Russians were supposed to monitor Assad’s chemical weapons.

          • Helen Marshall

            At risk from Russia? A country that has one percent of the external military bases that we do and one-tenth of the military budget? Maybe if we stopped provoking and insulting and breaking the promises made to Gorbachev about NATO expansion east we wouldn’t see so much risk.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Gorbachev is not Putin who is a tyrant and murderer.

        • anonyfool

          We had very little human intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan and the Sudan at that point in time (the lack of native speakers of the language in Afghanistan required us to use natives for translation when we did invade) – it would have taken an invasion to get accurate data – and the GOP was more concerned with blow jobs and abortion at the time. W Bush ignored the clear and present danger warning from the National Security Council, multiple times, about Bin Laden prior to 9/11. Bin Laden was so afraid of the US assassinating him, he killed the rival opposition figure in Afghanistan that was backed by the US one month prior to 9/11.

      • Susanbsnider

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    • St. Anger

      We are entering yet another war. Don’t lose sight of that while you “welcome” donnie’s awakening.

    • BCinBCS

      I’d bet you good money that candidate Comrade Trump couldn’t find Syria on a map.

      • Margueritekgarrett

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    • John Johnson

      I heard several learned commentators say the same thing.

      • WUSRPH

        Glad they agree with me….and that my thinking is not so far off the mark. Started to post this on Wednesday night, but was not satisfied with it so I restructured it Thursday evening. I hadn’t been listening that much….I spent most of the day trying to get the yard and the garden (farm) finally cleaned up…..We have 38 tomato plants, some peppers, egg plant and herbs….

    • Maryjrobinson

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    • anonyfool

      It’s a single meaningless attack without a coherent strategy, as you said you read in a different post.

      It could also just be a ruse, because it did almost no real damage, it makes it looks like he disagrees with Russia and potentially when they have the US go negotiate with Russia, Russia gets the US to drop sanctions which is the big picture thing Russia wants in exchange for something meaningless, in addition to the Russian client in charge in Syria.

      They could have used a few cruise missiles to kill Assad but that opens up a genie we unleashed in Iraq and Libya that we are still trying to put back in the bottle.

  • John Johnson

    Anything happing over at the Capitol Building, RG? Normally, this blog would be filled up with it; instead, we have back to back to back pieces on Beto. What’s the deal?

    • John Bernard Books

      It is not going well for Straus and the dems…..nothing to report.

    • WUSRPH

      Speaking about things happening at the Capitol, anybody have any reaction to the reactionary Senate Committee pushing out a package of bills designed to kill the proposed privately-funded super train between Dallas and Houston (and maybe eventually Houston-San Antonio-Austin-back to Dallas)? I see this as a useful additional to our state’s transportation network and, if private folks want to finance it, let them try…but some rural folks object to the fact that it might run thru their land. They are trying to kill the idea by stripping the train of its imminent domain power—-something that has been on the books for years…..I lot of people dislike eminent domain, especially if it is used for so-called “economic development” rather than for a transit project….but to be realistic you cannot build a roadway, much less a train route, without it…

      The last time the there was serious consideration of building a super train back in the late 80s and early 90s the legislature went as far as to create a Texas High-speed Rail Authority and to haggle over possible routes and stops….but it never got around to authorizing the issuance of the bonds that would have been necessary to finance a public version.** The major force standing in the way that time was Herb Kelleher–i.e.–Southwest Airlines. I have not been in close enough touch to the subject this time to see if Southwest is still blocking the effort including by stirring up the farmers….but it well could be. Southwest was still basically a regional carrier back then and did not want the competition the train would provide….but now that it is national heavyweight I would hope it would be less parochial about it….(A super train was one of the possibilities under Gov. Perry Trans-Texas Corridors scheme, but it was not a major consideration in that now dead plan.)

      Two things that make this version of the idea different are that it would be privately-financed (although some fear that it would eventually wind up being run by the state) and the fact that it was on a list of possible projects to be financed by Trump’s still-being-worked out infrastructure stimulus plan. Whether that will be enough to overcome the short-sightedness of some of our legislators (who fear those rural votes and maybe Southwest, too) is still to be seen.

      **Ben Barnes made an attempt to fund the High-Speed Rail project during the 1991 “Texas Performance Review” Special Session when I was handling transportation issues for the lt. governor. He got it as far as to get a senator to slip a provision allowing the authority to issue bonds into proposed committee report of the transportation bill….but it was soon spotted and killed.

      • anonyfool

        The GOP is perpetually in opposition to any program that increases the size of government except the military since about 1988. This should surprise no one.

        Trump’s infrastructure plan consists entirely of taxbreaks to contractors to build infrastructure.


    If anybody is interested, last night’s little gesture to Syria was fairly cheap in monetary costs as things like that go. Not counting the cost of operating the ships that launched the Tomahawks since they were on station anyway, the cost was probably only about $100 million. The major cost was for the 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles which have a unit cost of about $1.59 million each….Unless Raytheon gives the Trump Administration a special rate, that means the missiles used cost just under $94 million.

    • BCinBCS

      I was surprised to learn that they carry a 1,000 pound payload. I had assumed that, like most fighter jet carried ordinance, they were five hundred pound bombs. I can’t imagine the destruction that those missiles caused.

      • WUSRPH

        The 1,000 lb. payload DOES NOT mean that they have the explosive power of 1,000 pounds of TNT. It is a gross weight which includes fussing, radar, etc.. The weight of the actual explosive may well be less than half of the payload weight…..In fact, the Tomahawk normally is less damaging than the impact of a 1,000 lb. bomb (2 of which can be carried by a F-22 in its internal bay not counting those that can be carried externally in a all-out mission)…..Part of that is because, despite all the improvements, a cruise missile is less accurate than a JADM equipped air-dropped bomb. Cruise missiles are used primarily because they are almost immediately available in any area near an ocean and because they avoid the possibility of the loss of a manned aircraft and crew. They are also cheaper, at a cost of about $1.59 million each compared to the more than $200 million or more cost of a F-22. Even a F-16 costs $40 million. This does not include the high hourly operating cost of an manned aircraft compared to a missile.

      • anonyfool

        To an airfield, not a lot. If they were serious about doing damage to an airfield, they would have first hit AA with cruise missiles, then hit the remaining AA with stealth fighters, then hit the airfield with large bombers with airfield busters.


    Anybody hear anything from Trump about the job numbers? You could hear him crowing all the way from Washington over the last two months but now……SILENCE.


    “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”

    Donald Trump, 2003


    There is a map of who controls what in Syria in the Washington Post today (part of the story “13 questions for Trump” on the missile strike) that I certainly hope his staff makes him memorize before he does anything else in that tortured country. (I tried to past it here but I am just not computer savvy enough). It should convince him that getting any deeper involved in Syria is the major mistake he tweeted it would be back in 2013 when President Obama was, unsuccessfully, asking the Congress to approve him bombing Assad. Even if some deal were worked out to replace Assad, the place is such a mess that I doubt that any replacement could run the country.

    The real question from this week is whether Trump has really changed his view and understanding of the role of the US in the world…which is more than doubtful…or whether this really was a one-time thing resulting either from a (1) need to show he was tough, (2) the DOD/CIA telling him that the US could not let this kind of attack pass (again) if we are to have any restrictions on what kind of weapons can be used, (3) a distraction from other things or (4) a real reaction to those terrible pictures. I have a feeling that it was more number 2 and 4 with a touch of number 1.

    He clearly has not been in office long enough–or given enough thinking to the subject—to have developed a plan or strategy for what to do in Syria. At least it is possible that he has now learned that the ideas he was expressing during the campaign of working with the Soviets and Assad against the bad guys when combined with a clear lack of understanding of the situation were totally impractical if not foolish. But I think so far he has left the question of what to do to the “experts” while he plays golf and “works” (sic) on other problems. Maybe the events of this week have at least made him start seriously thinking about the issues involved. Let us at least hope so.


    Military Summary:

    Speaking of thinking twice, as you may have seen the Navy is sending the US Carl Vison’s Carrier Strike Group on a little sail by of Korea as it completes an annual Far East joint training exercise and, normally, would be heading home. The Vinson’s visit to Korean area waters comes at the same time as North Korea’s national celebration period when it is expected to conduct missile tests and perhaps another nuclear test..
    The presence of the Vinson group means that there are two Carrier Strike Groups in the Far East as the USS Ronald Reagan group is home-based in Japan. If any action were planned, the Regan would probably also be at sea but, according to the latest reports, is homeported for a four-month refurbishing. (The Vision group is in the area Because the Reagan was unavailable for the annual joint exercise with South Korean/Japanese naval units.)

    As such, the visit by the Vinson group is probably more of a sail-by show of force than any indication of forthcoming action.

    Such carrier strike groups are normally made up of a carrier, one cruiser and two or more destroyers or frigates and an accompanying supply ship and an attack submarine in the area. The carriers operate 65-70 aircraft and the cruiser and destroyers carry cruise missiles among other armaments.

    Although a carrier battle group (or simply the cruiser missiles carried by its escorts) could cause severe damage to any surface located NK facilities, such as its missile test facility, they are not equipped to effectively strike that nation’s underground nuclear facilities. Such an attack would require at least the use of B2s with super bunker bombs but even those weapons would probably do only minor damage to such underground structures.

    P.S. There was some coverage of a recent NK missile test last week, but you may not have noticed that the full accounts suggest the rocket blew up about 36 to 40 miles from its launch point. It is known that North Korea has shorter range missiles, perhaps capable of hitting all of South Korea and even some of Japan, but it has yet to demonstrate the capacity to reach targets at any farther distance or that it has a reliable missile. Nor is it clear that it has yet been able to produce a nuclear warhead miniaturized enough to be fitted to its known missiles.


    I was skimming the news this morning when I was taken aback by seeing two words “coherent” and “policy” appear in the same sentence in an article about the Trump Administration (sic)…..then I realized it was an article about how it doesn’t have one.



    Back in 2013 the neo-conservatives advising George W. Bush apparently convinced him that if he overthrew Saddam Hussein it would start a revolution in the Mid-East that would result in the explosion of democracy and peace for all. We have seen the results of that strategy….but now the National Review seems to have discovered another magic solution to the Middle East’s years of conflict—-an alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia (with Jordan, etc. coming along) in which they would join together to defeat Shia Islam (i.e.—Iran) and bring peace and stability to the region. And, it may all be possible because of Trump’s missile attack on Syria.

    • anonyfool

      The rivalry between Shia and Sunni has existed for 1000 years and the National Review thinks they can fix this? With respect to The National Review, as W said, fool me once, shame on you, can’t get fooled again, or something like that.

      • WUSRPH

        As simplistic as his ideas may be, the author of the NR article does not think he can resolve the conflict between Sunni and Shia…In fact, he wants Trump to use the antagonism between the two main branches of Islam to put together some cross-regional grand alliance of Sunni forces from Turkey to Oman. This great alliance (along with Israel) would then somehow deprive Iran of any influence in the Middle East and, at the same time, crush ISIS. He also has some concept that we can then convince these united Sunni to somehow uproot those in the Mosques and schools who teach radical Islamic ideas. How he is going to destroy an idea (presumably without killing all those who believe it), settle the Kurdish problem and deal with the remaining native non-Iranian Shia he does not make clear….. As I said, SIMPLISTIC.


    Anybody but me a little concerned about the fact that North Korea’s Kim and Syria’s Assad are saying nice things about each other and pledging mutual support? Kim is using his nukes to insure that his regime is left alone…..Assad might be in the market to obtain one for the same purpose. Nuclear proliferation anyone?


    Could someone tell the man that the Capitol of the United States is Washington, DC.


  • don76550

    This is the guy who opposes your right to own a gun, supports marijuana, supports the murder of babies, supports the illegal invasion of our country, and essentially agrees with everything Obama has said. He is totally unfit to hold any elective office.