CNN "State Of The Union With Jake Tapper" - Transcript "Interview with Rep. Beto O'Rourke"
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Joining me now from his hometown of El Paso, after having canceled his campaign events for the week to deal with the mourning citizens in his city, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.
Congressman O'Rourke, we have a lot to get to.
I do want to get your reaction to the president retweeting this unhinged conspiracy theory, without any evidence, linking Epstein's death by apparent suicide to a murder by the Clintons.
What was your reaction when you saw the tweets?
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is another example of our president using this position of public trust to attack his political enemies with unfounded conspiracy theories, and also to try to force you and me and all of us to focus on his bizarre behavior, instead of the fact that we just lost 22 people in this community, nine people in Dayton, Ohio, we're seeing an epidemic of gun violence every single day in this country.
And the attack in El Paso, that terrorist attack in El Paso, was motivated in part by the president constantly warning of invasions and infestations and predators and Mexican immigrants who he described as rapist and criminals, though we know they commit crimes at a far lower rate than those who are born in this country.
He's changing the conversation. And if we allow him to do that, then we will never be able to focus on the true problems, of which he is a part, and make sure that we get to the solutions, now, whether that means legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have it, or focusing on domestic terrorism of white supremacists that his own FBI director warned us about.
And then you reported this week that his Department of Homeland Security has been begging the president to focus on the kinds of threats that we saw in El Paso, and he's ignored them or willfully suppressed action on those ideas and those programs and those policies that could have saved lives in El Paso and across the country.
TAPPER: Let's talk about some of those solutions.
I do want to ask you about President Trump visiting El Paso, visiting the University Medical Center hospital this week, which I know you visited as well. The president praised the doctors there, but in a video, a cell phone video that has made -- been made public, he also bragged about his last rally in El Paso in February.
And he attacked you. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That was some crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot. They said his crowd was wonderful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The president also took a photo I want to show with a 2- month-old baby. The parents of that child had died trying to save the baby.
President Trump in that picture with this now orphaned child, big smile, thumbs up.
What did the people of El Paso tell you about the president's visit? Did he offer them any comfort?
O'ROURKE: The people of El Paso told me that they didn't want to see the president and they didn't want him to come here.
They understand that he's part of the problem. His constant warnings of invasion and infestation, his description of El Paso as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States -- and he didn't say it once. He said it repeatedly, though we are one of, if not the safest cities in the United States of America -- helped to cause somebody to drive more than 600 miles to kill people in this community.
Not a single patient at University Medical Center or Del Sol Hospital, the two hospitals caring for survivors of that attack, wanted to see the president.
That says it all, if you ask me.
But for him then to focus on comparing political rallies or on himself, on how much people love him just shows you how sick this guy is and how unfit for this office. He should be consoling people, bringing people together, focusing on their pain and improving their lives.
And, instead, he's focused on himself.
TAPPER: Let's talk about some of the solutions that you were talking about earlier.
You were asked in May whether you supported a plan for federal gun licensing. You said it might go too far.
I'm wondering what you think now, after the El Paso and Dayton massacres, if you feel the same way, or if maybe your mind is opening about that. That is a proposal that Senator Booker and some of your other rivals are out there talking about.
O'ROURKE: We should do it. We should have a national licensing program in this country.
I also said at the time it is something that is worth discussing, looking at. I want to learn more.
I have. I have listened to my fellow Americans, my fellow Texans, my fellow El Pasoans. This makes sense. It will save lives.
And in conjunction with universal background checks, closing all loopholes, ending the of weapons of war into our communities like the one that was used in El Paso, and red flag laws that stop people who own a firearm before it is too late, before they hurt themselves or someone else, we can end this epidemic of gun violence that will claim more than 40,000 lives this year, happening every single day in almost every single community.
So I think it is a proposal that makes sense, and one that I would want to implement as president.
TAPPER: The response that you would get from a lot of Texans, I would think, even some Democratic Texans, would be, hey, the people who do these mass shootings, criminals who commit crimes with guns, they don't care what the gun laws are, they're not going to abide by the gun laws, they're not going to get a license for a gun, they're just going to buy an illegal gun and commit the crime.
What would be your response to that?
O'ROURKE: Then why pass any law, and why be a nation of laws?
I think we pass those laws that we know will improve our lives, save lives, protect our fellow Americans. And then we have to vigorously enforce those laws.
And, as, president I would. It is the only way that we're going to save the lives of our fellow Americans that we are losing at a frightening pace right now, at a pace that no other country is seeing around the world.
And we either accept that this is our lot and our future and our fate, and we are inherently violent or evil or bad, or that this is a human- caused problem with a human solution.
And we know that, in those states that have adopted these licenses, or have adopted universal background checks, or have stopped the sales of weapons of war, that we are saving lives.
So let's adopt these solutions nationally and make sure that, without taking anyone's Second Amendment rights away, that we save the lives of our fellow Americans.
TAPPER: You said to me last week that you thought President Trump was a white nationalist.
I just wonder, sir. President Trump won your home state of Texas by nine points. Almost 63 million Americans voted for him. Do you think it is racist to vote for President Trump in 2020?
O'ROURKE: I think it is really hard, after everything that we have seen, from his time as a candidate in 2016, to his repeated warnings of invasions, to his repeated calls to send them back, sending back people who are U.S. citizens, sending back people who were born in this country, his description of white nationalists and Klansmen and neo-Nazis as very fine people, his warnings of Muslims as being somehow inherently defective or dangerous and attempting to ban them from entry into this country, his transgender troop ban, and his attack on anyone who does not look like or pray like or love like the majority of the country.
Yes, Donald Trump is dangerous to the future of America, and will destroy what makes us so unique and so special and the genius that we represent to ourselves and to the rest of the world.
And so I appeal to my fellow Americans to choose a candidate who will bring this very divided and highly polarized country together, who will work on the issues before us, whether it is health care, or an economy that includes everyone, or immigration, or confronting climate before it is too late, and doing it in a way that speaks to the best of us, that is ambitious, that is not fearful of the future and does not try to divide us on our differences.
That is exactly what Donald Trump is doing right now.
TAPPER: Congressman Beto O'Rourke, please continue to send our condolences to the people of El Paso.
We appreciate your time.
O'ROURKE: Thank you.
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