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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript: Interview with former Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Interview

Date: Aug. 18, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

All right, Larry. In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton and his hometown of El Paso, my next guest, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, has decided to retool his campaign a bit. He says he wants to more forcefully on taking on President Trump - which will take him to places outside of Iowa and New Hampshire. And Beto O'Rourke joins me now live from Little Rock, Arkansas. Congressman O'Rourke, Welcome back to Meet the Press.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Thanks for having me on.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to your campaign, I want to, I want to ask you a China question. You're elected president. You know that there's many Democrats, many, many in this country want to see a different -- a tougher stance against China than has been taken in previous administrations. But a lot of people don't think this tactic is working. How would you both get tough on China without impacting the world economy?

BETO O'ROURKE:

You're right. This,this current trade war that the president has entered our country into is not working. It is hammering the hell out of farmers across this country, who do not want bailouts or payoffs. They just want to be able to make a profit in what they're growing and be able to have those markets again that they worked a lifetime to create. The American consumer understands that these tariffs are a tax on them, one of the greatest tax increases on the middle class in the history of this country. And so yes, we need to hold China accountable. But when have we ever gone into a war, a military war or a trade war, without allies or friends and partners? Let's make sure that we bring our friends in the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, and others, and bring a united front against China, to make sure that they respect the rules of the road, that they respect our economy, our farmers, and our workers. That's the best possible way to come to a conclusion that benefits our economy and ensures that we have a stable, global economy, going forward. Because I'm afraid that this president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession.

CHUCK TODD:

In hindsight, was it a mistake to back out of TPP? I mean that -- what you just described was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was, basically, uniting Asian-Pacific countries, not named China, into one trade pact.

BETO O'ROURKE:

I think TPP was a great concept. I think the particulars weren't there yet. For example, we did not have sufficient standards for labor, including in Mexico, where workers are paid $40 or $50 a week, putting the American worker at a competitive disadvantage. If we don't have a high labor standards with those countries that we're trading and enforce those labor standards, if we don't have high environmental standards, if we don't have high standards for human rights, then we really do not have fair trade around the world. In my administration, we'll make sure that those standards are high, that they're enforced, and that we have markets to which we can export what we grow and what we make in the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to your reboot. Let me be blunt. You don't retool a campaign or reboot, you don't say it that way, if you think things were going swimmingly. You've acknowledged that you feel as if you hadn't been, you hadn't been talking about the issue that you think you should be talking about more, and that's President Trump. Explain what you weren't doing before that you think you'll be doing better now.

BETO O'ROURKE:

You know, from the outset of this campaign, even before this campaign, I talked about how dangerous President Trump's open racism is, the Mexicans as rapists and criminals, the Muslims, who should be banned from this country, how it doesn't just offend us, but it changes us, the rise in hate crimes, every single one of the last three years, the mosque in Victoria, Texas, burned to the ground the day after he signs his executive order attempting to ban Muslim travel. But it wasn't until someone, inspired by Donald Trump, drove more than 600 miles, to my hometown, and killed 22 people in my community with a weapon of war, an AK-47, that he had no business owning, that no American should own, unless they are on a battlefield, engaged with the enemy. It wasn't until that moment that I truly understood how critical this moment is and the real consequence and cost of Donald Trump. And I saw it again yesterday, in Mississippi, in Canton, in a community where nearly 700 people working in chicken processing plants, one of the toughest jobs in America, were raided, detained, taken from their kids, humiliated, hogtied, for the crime of being in this country, doing a job that no one else will do. There is a concerted, organized attack against immigrants, against people of color, against those who do not look like or pray like or love like the majority in this country. And this moment will define us one way or another. And if we do not wake up to it, I am convinced that we'll lose America, this country, in our sleep. And we cannot allow that to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like this is a conundrum that faces many of you running for president, which is, on one hand, you see the president, in some ways, as an existential threat to the American story, our culture. So does it seems silly, at times, to be debating whether or not there should be a public option, when you feel as if the president is a bigger threat on other issues? Is that what's made this campaign sometimes seem, seem tonally off for the entire, for the entire field, at times?

BETO O'ROURKE:

No. Because I'll tell you, if we don't deliver on universal, guaranteed, high-quality healthcare, on a minimum wage that's a living wage, on paid family leave, on those issues that restore dignity to the lives of our fellow Americans, then we have not only failed them, we have provided fertile ground for the kind of demagogue that Donald Trump is, who will channel that anger and frustration at our government's dysfunction, in our ability to get something done, against immigrants, as he's done, warning of invasions and infestations and animals and predators, having somebody, at one of his rallies, say, "We should shoot them." And the crowd roars their assent. And Donald Trump smiles because he doesn't want you to focus on the fact that you're working two or three jobs right now just to make ends meet, or that you live in the wealthiest country on the face of the planet, but you can't afford to take care of your diabetes. Yes, Democrats have to address those issues and deliver on those issues. But we also have to call out the existential threat, to use the word that you just employed, that Donald Trump represents right now. Not only are we going to lose more lives, I'm confident that we will lose this country and our democracy, the longer he stays in office. So that is the urgency behind what I'm talking about.

CHUCK TODD:

Talk to your supporters, though, for a minute, here. As much as I get the, I get the fact that you might feel a bit boxed in just campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, when, when the questions and issues are the same, that's still where you get your delegates, right? That's still how you get the nomination. Iowans sometimes punish people that don't campaign in the state enough. How are you going to win this nomination, going about it in a national campaign like this?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I love campaigning in Iowa. I'm so grateful for the people I've met, the volunteers on our team, who are knocking on doors right now. And I will be back in Iowa. But the people of Iowa, the people of this country, want me to show up and be there for everyone, not count anybody off, because their state is last in the nomination selection process. That's why I was in Mississippi yesterday. That's why I'm in Arkansas today. That's why I'm going to Oklahoma later this evening. If everyone counts, we can't just say that. We have to demonstrate that. And I don't think, at a time that this campaign, this selection for who will be the nominee, has become nationalized, that that will be lost on the people of Iowa. They care just as much as I do, or the people of Arkansas, about making sure that everyone is heard, everyone has a seat at the table. Coming from El Paso, Texas, a community that was rarely, if ever, visited, I know what that feels like to be left behind. But I also know what it feels like when someone finally shows up. And I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Beto O'Rourke, the former Congressman that represents El Paso, Texas. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Be safe on the campaign trail.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Thanks, Chuck.

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