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CNN "State Of The Union With Jake Tapper" - Transcript "Interview with Rep. Beto O'Rourke"



Former Texas Congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is focused on combating these kinds of attacks after a deadly shooting in his hometown of El Paso last month.

And he joins me now.

Congressman, welcome.

Let's start on the shooting.

I want to play for our viewers your reaction at a campaign stop last night.


O'ROURKE: Don't know what the motivation is. Do not yet know the firearms that were used or how they acquired them.

But we do know this is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.


O'ROURKE: We do know...



O'ROURKE: Yes, the rhetoric that we have used, the thoughts and prayers that you just referred to, it has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence to protect our kids, our families, our fellow Americans in public places, at a Walmart in El Paso, where 22 were killed, in Sutherland Springs in a church, one or two a day all over this country, 100 killed daily in the United States of America.

We're averaging about 300 mass shootings a year. No other country comes close.


So, yes, this is fucked up.

And if we don't call it out for what it is, if we're not able to speak clearly, if we're not able to act decisively, then we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed in America. And I cannot accept that.

And so we're going to speak as defiantly and as strongly as we can. But we're also going to take action, universal background checks, red flag laws, an end to the sales of weapons of war, and buying those AK- 47s and AR-15s back so that they cannot be used against our fellow Americans.

BASH: So let's talk more about some of those solutions.

You made an unusual campaign stop a couple of weeks ago. You went to the red state of Arkansas, and you went to a gun show.

What did you learn there?

O'ROURKE: The first person who approached me introduced himself, recognized me. And I said: "Look, I got to be honest. I'm here because we lose more than 40,000 Americans a year. We have got to find a solution."

And he said: "I shouldn't be here. If you have a pulse, if you're 18 years old, I sell you the gun. I shouldn't be able to do that."

He, at a gun show, selling guns, was advocating for universal background checks.

Another father of 3 says: "I own an AR-15. I'm not sure if I agree with your policy on weapons of war, but I have got three kids in school, and I'm worried about them, and they're -- they're afraid to go to school on Monday. We got to do something."

Another guy said: "I voted for Trump, have an AK-47, but I would be willing to give it up if it means that we're going to save lives in this country."

The challenge is so grave, the threat is so great, we can't meet it with half-measure or only half the country. We have got to bring in Republicans, gun owners, Democrats, non-gun owners alike into these solutions, and save lives, or else be complicit in the continuing carnage that we see throughout America.

And I will not be part of that. We're going to be part of the solution.

BASH: So, one of the parts of your solution includes mandatory buybacks for so-called assault weapons.

The "USA Today" editorial board -- board argued against that. They said that you are playing into the NRA's hands. And here's what was part of that editorial: "The legislation would absolutely be doomed if it included a mandatory buyback provision. Anything smacking of confiscation would breathe life and energy into the not from my cold dead hands crowd, endangering law enforcement, and likely putting a full stop to any further gun safety measures."

What's your response?

O'ROURKE: You know, more than I worry about the politics or the polling, more than I care about what the NRA has to say on this, I care for my kids, and this country, and people who live in terror every day, people in El Paso, Mexican Americans who say: "I feel like I have a target on my back. I'm afraid to go out in public."

Kids who, thinking about going to school tomorrow, having gone through active shooter drills, already know which bookcase they're going to pull down, which window they're going to jump out of.

This is not right, and we should not accept it. And we should be honest with ourselves. Universal background checks will help. Ending the sales of weapons of war will help.

But if millions of them remain on the streets, they will still be instruments of terror that terrify and terrorize us and take our lives. And...

BASH: But what about...

O'ROURKE: ... I'm not going to accept that.

BASH: But what about the kind of real world dynamic that "USA Today," the editorial board, is putting in there, that if you go too far, that it'll kill the whole thing?

O'ROURKE: This triangulation calculation, poll-testing every move, that's what got us here in the first place.

I listened to those students from Parkland, Florida, March For Our Lives. It came out with a bold plan for peace that talks about many of the measures I just described, a national gun registry, licensing for every American who owns a firearm.

Use that gun for self-protection, to hunt, to collect, to shoot at target practice. But you don't need an AR-15, an AK-47. That is a weapon of war designed to kill people as efficiently, as effectively, in as great a number as possible.

That high-impact, high-velocity rounds, it distributes its entire kinetic energy in your body and destroy your insides.

We talked to the surgeons who treated the victims in El Paso. Many of them had been on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said these are wounds of war.

Let's not sell those anymore, and let's bring them back off of our streets.

BASH: OK, let's change topics to what we're going to see in 11 days, the next Democratic debate. You're one of 10 who made the debate stage.

One of the key issues, of course, will be health care. Senator Sanders floated a plan this weekend that would cancel $81 billion in existing past-due medical debt. Is that something you could support?

O'ROURKE: Perhaps, yes.

There's no reason that you should go into bankruptcy or not be able to make that payment on a prescription medication that will save your life. So, first order of business is to enroll everyone in Medicare who's uninsured today.

Everyone who's insufficiently insured, cannot afford that co-pay or that premium or bridge that deductible, they should be able to enroll in Medicare. Those who have employer-sponsored insurance that works for them, members of unions who have fought for a health care plan that they like for themselves and their families, they should be able to keep that as well.


And then those who have accrued that medical debt, if we can help them as well, let's do that.

But I think the goal should be universal, guaranteed, high-quality care, primary care, mental health care, and every woman making her own decision about her own body and having access to the care that makes that possible.

BASH: OK, so you just suggested this in your answer. You do not support Medicare for all, which Senator Sanders and some other opponents of yours do.

You said it would -- quote -- "force 180 million Americans off their insurance."

Do you think a candidate who supports Medicare for all can beat Donald Trump in 2020?

O'ROURKE: Yes, I do.

I think anyone in the field of candidates who's running right now not only would be a better president, but will be able to beat Donald Trump. If I'm not the nominee -- I'm going to do everything I can to win that nomination.

BASH: And you don't think a Medicare for all plan would hurt that?

O'ROURKE: But, if I'm not, I'm going to get behind whoever the nominee is, and work my heart out and work with my fellow Americans to make sure that, not only do we defeat Donald Trump, but that we achieve these priorities, health care, making sure everyone can participate in the economy, rewriting our immigration laws, and confronting the challenge of climate change before it's too late.

BASH: So, obviously, you just made clear you're going to be behind the -- the nominee.

You have staked out more moderate positions on several topics than your opponents, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are, frankly, doing better than you are right now in the polls. Do you worry that the Democrats are moving too far to the left in order to win in 2020?

O'ROURKE: No. I have no worries about that at all.

I think our party is big enough, our democracy is big enough to have this competition of ideas and vision for the future of our country. And I'm grateful for everything that every candidate has contributed so far.

My positions, I don't think, are moderate or conservative or liberal. They're reflective of the people that I have listened to, those union members who've said, look, we fought for this health care plan, I want to be able to keep it, and I want to make sure that we also extend health care to those who do not have it today.

I don't know where you put that on the political spectrum, but it makes sense to me. It made sense to them. And I want to make sure that I'm representing their interests and serving them as president of the United States.

BASH: Congressman, Beto O'Rourke, thank you so much for coming in today. O'ROURKE: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.