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

Interview

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CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now, from Houston, is former congressman, Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke. Congressman O'Rourke, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. Look, Senator -- Republican Senator Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania, you heard the Chris Coons comment there, at the end of the, end of that package, there. And Pat Toomey tweeted the following. "I agree with Chris Coons. This is an awful and extreme idea. Thankfully, there's not enough support in Congress to do it. But with this rhetoric, undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on common-sense gun-safety efforts, like expanding background checks." He went on the record, Congressman. A few other Democrats have gone with blind quotes. There's a lot of hand wringing about what you said, agreeing with your sentiment but concerned that the rhetoric is going to actually backfire. What do you say?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I think this just shows you how screwed up the priorities in Washington, DC are. I think what's truly awful is a 17-month-old baby shot in the face with an AR-15, as happened in Odessa. What's truly awful is 22 people killed in a Walmart the Saturday before school starts that next Monday, buying their school supplies, innocent of any crime or any threat to this country, in fact, living in one of the safest cities in America, El Paso, Texas, hunted down by their ethnicity with a weapon that was designed for use on a battlefield. Talking to those doctors and trauma room surgeons who treated those victims in El Paso, they said, "These are wounds of war." That high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hit their systems, just shredded everything inside of them. I refuse to accept that. And I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling or the fear or the NRA. That has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress. And this weak response to a real tragedy in America, 40,000 gun deaths a year, we've got to do something about it. And I'm proposing that we do something about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Explain your change of heart. You describe -- to be a bit harsh here, what you just said about, sort of, the weakness of Washington, you used to be one of those members of Congress who used to advocate this very careful wording on guns. Where did you go wrong?

BETO O'ROURKE:

No, I reject that. I reject that, Chuck. So in Texas, in every single one of the 254 counties, no matter how red or rural or big and blue, I was showing up, talking about an assault weapons ban in that state, a proud, gun-owning state. Because I also know it's a proud, responsible gun-owning state. And folks said, "That is the third rail of politics in Texas. You can never talk about it." So I've been talking about these issues throughout the state. But you're right. On August 3rd, in El Paso, with 22 people killed, dozens more grievously injured, I could no longer accept that that would be enough. Because there are still more than 10 million assault weapons, weapons of war, out on the street. And if we agree that they're dangerous to sell, and that we should stop selling them, then we also have to agree that these are instruments of terror that are still out there and have to be brought back home, or they are going to be used against us. And that's what we've seen in El Paso, in Midland, Odessa, in Sutherland Springs. Those are just three communities in Texas.

CHUCK TODD:

You heard, at one time, I believe, it was Vice President Biden offer it up and he said, "Don't forget the Constitution." So let me ask it this way. What is your interpretation of what the Second Amendment allows and what the Second Amendment does not allow?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I'll put it this way. This is something that we're able to do through the Commerce Clause. And this is something that is not prevented from -- wouldn't prevent the United States from doing by the Second Amendment. So, this is constitutionally sound. This is absolutely necessary, if we care about the lives of our fellow Americans. And here's something I want to tell you. Going to a gun show in Conway, Arkansas, stopping at a Buc-ee's in Katy, Texas, yesterday, listening to owners of AR-15s, Republicans, who come up to me and say, "You know what? I own one of these guns. Don't need it to hunt, don't need it for self-defense. This is the right thing to do. I would gladly give it up, because I also have kids who are in school. And I fear for their safety," or, "I have grandkids. I want to make sure that this country is safe for them." So not only is this constitutionally sound, I think there's support beyond the Democratic Party, to include Republicans and Independents, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, to do the right thing.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, I am curious that -- you've gotten a lot more attention for saying what you did. You were supporting mandatory buybacks before. But now, you're getting this focus, because of how you said it. There's been some coverage of you, recently, going, "Hey, Congressman O'Rourke's in his blank-it stage," you know, referring to the fact that you will curse, occasionally, on the stump. Do you find it a bit frustrating that it takes, sometimes, theatrics to get the attention of the press corps, to get the attention of the American public?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I think what people want us to do, and what I'm trying to do in this campaign, is just to see things as clearly as I possibly can and speak as honestly as I possibly can without triangulating or polling or you know, focus group testing what the message is. Just, just call this out for what it is, absolutely wrong, unacceptable, that we have people killed in this way in our communities and people living in fear in America today. I reject that fear. And I want to go forward with a bold, ambitious proposal to make sure that we're safe in our communities, safe in our homes, safe in America again.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the debate about Vice President Biden and the concern about his fitness to take the fight to President Trump, A, is it a legitimate debate, and do you have concerns?

BETO O'ROURKE:

Oh, no. I could care less about that, to be honest with you. I was listening to your opening package. I mean, who the hell cares, right? You've got tens of millions of people who cannot see a doctor. In Texas, where I am right now, largest provider of mental healthcare services is the county jail system. You've got ten years left within which to confront climate change, or it is all over for all of us. You've got kids in cages, families who've been separated. I mean, there are some really urgent issues that we've got to be addressing in this country right now. The last thing I care about is Joe Biden's age or some inner-party fight between candidates up on that stage. We've got to be talking about the big things that people in this country care about.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, if you were president right now, and you had a growing epidemic of people vaping and possibly getting sick or dying from it, what would you be doing right now; a temporary recall of all of these products? What would you be doing?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I think that's a great place to start. I think you're seeing a playbook pioneered by big tobacco over the last 50 or 60 years, trying to hook kids on something that will ultimately kill them, being employed by the vaping industry. We need vigorous regulation. We need to treat this as a true public-health crisis and respond with the urgency that it demands. We've got to make sure that no one's able to buy their way into our democracy with PAC checks or lobbyists, to write the rules in their favor, as tobacco has done, as pharmaceutical corporations are able to do, as the NRA has been able to do. We've got to stand up for people and especially for kids right now. This, this is an urgent issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Congressman Beto O'Rourke coming to us from Houston, Texas. Be safe on the trail, and thanks for coming on and sharing your views.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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